Playing long and loose with people’s land and lives

On April 2, 1982, Argentine forces launched the invasion of the Falkland Islands, beginning the Falklands War. There was a resounding condemnation of the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands by British politicians and press alike. The Falkland Islands was British territory and were inhabited by white-skinned settlers.
The Financial Times of April 5, 1982, called the Falklands invasion an ‘illegal and immoral means to make good territorial claims’, and expressed the view that the British and American governments could not possibly ‘be indifferent to the imposition of foreign rule on people who have no desire for it’. Margaret Thatcher, whose prime ministerial career was shaped by the Falklands War, considered that ‘the wishes of the [Falkland] islanders were paramount’.
No such empathy was forthcoming for the people of Diego Garcia, a British territory located in the Chagos Archipelago of the Indian Ocean, when, in 1965, the government of the United Kingdom leased the island to Washington for a period of fifty years, with an option of a twenty-year extension. There was an almost deafening silence when the British action over Diego Garcia became known (see my previous article, 103: Heaping insult on injury).
What was the difference in the action over these two territories, apart from the fact that Diego Garcia was inhabited by a brown-skinned indigenous nation? The question might well be asked, as, indeed, it might be asked about the entire history of British colonialism!
The poignancy of the silence affecting Diego Garcia was exacerbated when, in 1985, a study by the Minority Rights Group was published. This study concluded that ‘Britain expelled the native population without any workable re-settlement scheme; left them in poverty; gave them a tiny amount of compensation and later offered more on condition that the islanders renounced their rights ever to return home’. Further, the Ilois people of Diego Garcia were allowed to take with them ‘minimum personal possessions, packed into a small crate’. Most of those expelled from their homeland ended up in the slums of the Mauritian capital, ‘leading wretched, disaffected lives; the numbers who have since died from starvation and disease is unknown’ (see Madeley, Diego Garcia, 1985).
(A more complete and detailed account of the atrocious treatment mete out to the Ilois people of Diego Garcia can be found in Section 1: The New Cold War, of the powerful and revelatory book, Hidden Agendas, 1998, by the Australian journalist and film-maker John Pilger. This is one of the very few critical accounts of the Diego Garcia affair that the reader is likely to research)
The initial fifty years period of the lease of Diego Garcia to the United States of America expired at the end of 2016. Hundreds of Chagos islanders living in the UK and Mauritius were eagerly awaiting the announcement that they could begin the return to their homeland. After forty years of campaigning, during which time half of the exiles have died, optimism was high that the wrong committed by a Labour government led by Harold Wilson would be rectified and that the Chagossians would be given the go-ahead to return to settle in Diego Garcia.
In the event, however, great disappointment, allied with accompanying disillusionment; was the outcome as the British government’s Foreign Office announced that, in consequence of a mixture of cost, economic viability and objections from the US military, thousands of Chagos islanders will not be given the right of return to resettle.
Despite the fact that the current Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has been a long-term campaigner for the right of return of the Chagossians, we are expected to believe that government Ministers have agonized over this decision for years. However, the reality is more likely that, despite knowing about the disgraceful treatment of the islanders by the British government, Ministers meekly accept that, given the importance of the military base to the Pentagon, it would not be possible to take the land back from the Americans and return it to its historical owners and inhabitants. The ‘special relationship’ obviously has its limitations!
It would seem that successive British Governments, along with their American counterparts, do not genuinely subscribe to the view that ‘people should have a right to return to the country of their birth’. This is a basic human right recognized by all human rights conventions. Recent events in the USA testify to the realization that this is not, however,  a human right universally recognized, even in western countries that claim to be champions of democracy and human rights.
It would seem that, contrary to Thatcher’s false and pious pronouncements, the governments of both the UK and the USA are selectively ‘indifferent to the imposition of foreign rule on people who have no desire for it’, and that, in the case of the Chagos islanders and especially the people of Diego Garcia, the wishes of the islanders are not paramount!
The efforts of politicians continue to fudge the issue of the right to return for Diego Garcians and other Chagos islanders. James Duddridge, a former minister for overseas territories, visited the Chagos Islands in early 2016 and came away convinced that resettlement was not the correct solution. ‘We cannot undo an historic wrong, but we can mitigate it,’ Duddridge told a House of Commons debate in October, 2016, ‘…in all candour I must say that I do not believe it is right to repopulate the islands as part of that mitigation’.
Duddridge further states: ‘I am not saying one could not populate the islands, but the concept that the outer islands are an idyllic possibility is for the birds. They were difficult, overgrown, humid areas that were accessible only where the marines had gone in and chopped down foliage’.
The folly of this view is that it seemingly is unable to recognize that the Chagos islanders had lived in harmony and contentment with this environment for many lifetimes before the fateful coming of the British or the Americans. The islander’s idyll was destroyed by the neo-colonial ambitions of the British and the imperial and military machinations of the USA.
The following statement by John Pilger is surely an appropriate summation: ‘Diego Garcia is a microcosm of empire and of the Cold War, old and new. The unchanging nature of the 500-year Western imperial crusade is exemplified in the suffering of the forgotten Ilois people, whose story has been consigned to oblivion, routinely, by the reporters and historians of power. This is hardly surprising, as much of the mainstream Western scholarship has taken humanity out of the study of nations, congealing it with jargon and reducing it to an esotericism called “international relations”, the chess game of Western power’.
In the Chagos Archipelago, the British and the Americans are playing long and loose with people’s lands and lives.


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Heaping insult on injury

In this, the first article for the New Year 2017, I wish to return to an issue that first appeared in this blog in the early part of 2015. At that time two articles, (“Caught in a trap”, 03.03.2015, and “Behind closed doors”, 30.03.2015) included information and argument about the UK’s dealings with the Chagossian Islanders. The situation is worth rehearsing.
In 1965, the British excised the Chagos Islands from the self-governing British colony of Mauritius. The latter had exercised oversight of the entire Chagos Archipelago since 1903. The Chagos Islands became a British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). Essentially, the Chagos Islands and their peoples, the Chagossians, became a British Protectorate.
Then, in 1966, the British Labour Government of Harold Wilson used governmental Orders in Council – a method in government which by-passes Parliament and is considered by many to be unjust and undemocratic – in order to pass legislation that permitted the forced removal of the Chagossians from their homeland. This process took place between 1967 and 1973.
The whole of the above-mentioned affair was imposed unilaterally and without any referendum or consultation with – and made no provision for any democratic institutions for – the Chagossians. Under threat, around 2,000 Chagossians were removed to Mauritius and forbidden to re-enter their homeland. Mauritius got the people, but not the land!
In due course, the true nature and purpose for the forced expulsion and dispossession of the Chagossians was revealed. Behind closed doors, the Wilson government had agreed with the USA to “establish a United States air and naval base on Diego Garcia” (the main island of the Chagos Archipelago). This occupation by the troops and support staff of the USA began in 1971.
However, the story does not end there.
In a remarkable revelation of secrecy and duplicitous ‘behind closed doors’ deals at the heart of British government, the 2004 documentary film Stealing a Nation by the Australian journalist and film-maker, John Pilger (now readily available on YouTube and DVD), showed how successive Labour and Conservative British Governments had uprooted and disenfranchised the whole population of a British Crown Colony in order to appease and protect the military strategies and practices of the USA.
Today, Diego Garcia is one of the biggest USA military bases in the world. As the Pentagon describes it, the island fortress of Diego Garcia “is an indispensable platform for policing the world.” Furthermore, it was established and developed during the United States’ prosecution of the Vietnam War – a more than adequate cover for a colossal cover-up!
Some forty years after Harold Wilson’s chicanery involving the Chagos Islanders, Orders in Council were again controversially used by another Labour Government, that of Tony Blair in 2004, to overturn a UK court ruling which held that the exile of the Chagossians was unlawful.
By this time the island of Diego Garcia was being used by the USA as its major base for bombing raids on Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as and more sinisterly, for conducting the process and practice of ‘extraordinary rendition’ (otherwise referred to as ‘torture flights’) associated with its wars in the Middle East and South East Asia. The British government denied any involvement with this practice.
In view of this denial, the words of Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary in 2005, are most apposite:
“Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop.”
Ironically, in 2008, another Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, was forced to admit that planes carrying ‘rendition’ victims had landed on Diego Garcia. What is it, therefore, that we are left to believe about Mr. Straw’s dishonest and discredited statement?
Perversely, the same New Labour government had, in June, 2006, successfully appealed against the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal’s ruling that the Chagossians were entitled to return to their homeland. To heap insult on injury, the government’s appeal was to the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords – an unelected body!
In what could be viewed as an amazing act of collusion, if not an extreme dereliction of duty by this committee of Peers of the Realm, pre-eminence was given to the ‘behind closed doors’ decisions of the government and the view that “it was not for the courts to substitute their judgement for that of the Secretary of State as to what was conducive to the peace, order and good governance of the BIOT.” Are governments free, therefore, to operate outside of the rule of law?
Secrecy, it seems, still reigns supreme when it comes to exercising the privileges of power. This is repugnant in a democracy, whether this modus operandi is carried out by elected politicians or members of any of the institutions of the state. As with so much of the recent history of the Chagos Islands, and particularly Diego Garcia, there is ample evidence of cover-up, conspiracy, hypocrisy and blatant lying from a succession of British governments.
Through secrecy and subterfuge over almost half a century, the British government has stolen the heritage of the Chagossians for a mess of American pottage. The story, however, as with the scandals and disgrace involving British MPs, goes on.
I will return to the contemporary situation of the Chagos Islanders in my next article.


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The politics of identity

In his book, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, the left-wing author Owen Jones says:
“Of course, the struggles for the emancipation of women, gays, and ethnic minorities are exceptionally important causes. New Labour has co-opted them, passing genuinely progressive legislation on gay equality and women’s rights, for example. But it is an agenda that has happily co-existed with the sidelining of the working class in politics, allowing New Labour to protect its radical flank while pressing ahead with Thatcherite policies.” (p.255, 2011)
Jones was commenting on what is today known as the politics of identity, a social and cultural phenomenon which “invites people to stay in, to look inward, to obsess over body and the self, to surround themselves with a moral force-field to protect their worldview – which has nothing to do with the world – from any questioning.”
As viewed by Owen Jones, identity politics often marginalizes the working classes. No longer are the views of the politicians at the top of the Labour Party inspired and informed by a powerful post-war labour movement that gave rise to a multitude of books and articles on working-class issues. There are many who, sharing Jones’ viewpoint, believe that the current convulsions within the British Labour Party, as well as the party’s seeming contemporary lack of appeal to the British nation at large, are a consequence of this neglect.
Identity politics is wider in application than just party political concerns and, as a term, has been in use for 40-50 years. It relates to peoples’ feelings of being oppressed and to the desire to articulate their felt oppression in terms of their own experience. The primary chosen method of this expression is consciousness-raising. This is a form of life-sharing in which an oppressed group expresses its common experience with other groups. In this process of sharing and growing consciousness there develops a consensus and solidarity that is life-changing and oppression-ending.
It will be realized, therefore, that the politics of identity has relevance to forms of oppression experienced by ethnic, sexual and racial minorities, children and women, and by the powerless poor of deprived urban areas. Each of these groups, by the very fact of their existence, is vulnerable to cultural imperialism, violence, exploitation and marginalization. Identity politics starts with the analysis of the extant form of oppression and seeks to recommend a restructuring of the existing society. This restructuring may be based on the success of legislation, community organizing and communal living, campaigns and organized protest.
A fundamental basis for confronting identity politics is the recognition of human rights and this, in turn, pre-supposes a liberal democratic society. Those familiar with his writings will be aware that identity politics can be seen in Karl Marx’s earliest statements about “a class becoming conscious of itself and developing a class identity.” Marx saw this as a basis for social and political action on behalf of the oppression experienced by the working classes. Marginalization and its accompanying oppression leads to establishing identity; identity leads to solidarity; solidarity leads to action; action leads to the cessation of oppression and integration. This process is appropriate for combating all forms of identity politics.
The politics of identity received renewed prominence during the 1980’s when it was linked with a new wave of social movement activism. In contemporary times and during Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency of the USA there was speculation that “the Republican Party might become the party of white identity politics” (August 2016 edition of The Atlantic). This speculation included the notion that there were a significant number of voters who identified with the protection of “a white majority and traditional white values”, particularly amongst blue-collar Americans, to legitimately speak of white identity politics.
There seems little doubt that this development in the social and political life of the USA has been driven by social, cultural and religious diversity in the USA, as well as by demographic change. It requires distinction from straight-out nationalism. In all of this the fear of the working-class white population becoming a minority in the USA propels many “to affiliate with conservative causes including those not related to diversity.” It is ironic that, as with Nigel Farage in the UK, Donald Trump is identified with this working class group or movement. He is very much a part of the same ‘political establishment’ and wealthy class that, as the mass media is constantly telling us, voters are turning against. In this whole process we may recognize that the politics of identity is being negatively impressed by the politics of manipulation!
It may be expected that, as Donald Trump assumes the presidency of the USA, white identity politics may become more pronounced and offer a challenge to “the American way of life.” This is inevitable if political policies and the national conversation encourage the marginalization of distinct groups within American society. Marginalization of society through affirmations of difference – be they religious, social, economic, racial or gender difference – will cause fractures within society. Donald Trump is liable to the accusation that he is an advocate of this fracturing.
Therefore, the afore-mentioned civil rights and what the historian, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., has termed “the full acceptance and integration of marginalized groups into mainstream culture”, is what is necessary for the creation of real opportunities for ending marginalization and, as a consequence, the diminution of identity politics.
Of course, the politics of identity is not specific only to life in the USA. There is ample evidence that the rise and political success of UKIP in the UK and the whole process of Brexit has threatened, or is actually causing, the marginalization of large swathes of UK citizens and EU nationals living and working in the UK. In Australia there is the ongoing, if not widespread, debate about the marginalization of Indigenous Peoples and the way in which identity politics is becoming a significant factor in society down-under.
The success of liberal democracies, including the possibilities for those situations and nations discussed in the above, requires a common basis for culture and society to function. Identity politics works against this common basis. It is, therefore, incumbent on liberal democracies that preach and practice justice to put in place and then to practice social and economic policies that emphasize equality under the law, equal opportunities for all, and human rights that are non-discriminatory – a structure for society that constructs and maintains rather than oppresses and destroys.
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A road to be travelled

Cryogenics is that branch of physics and engineering that involves the study of very low temperatures, how to produce them, and how materials behave at those temperatures. When cryopreservation is applied to human being it is known as cryonics. Recently, a 14 year old English girl had her body cryogenically frozen.
The girl in question suffered and then died from cancer. In a letter to a member of the High Court judiciary, the girl had expressed the desire to have her body frozen with a view to being returned to life at some point in the future. She didn’t wish to be buried under the ground, or to have her body reduced to ashes through cremation. She fervently desired to have her body frozen in the hope that advances in medical science would one day be able to cure her disease.
A subsequent legal decision agreed with her wishes. At a future point in history, it was hoped, there would be a cure for the girl’s cancer. At such time, she would be reawakened, her life would be restored and she would be able to renew her existence. In the meantime she would pass into the future cryogenically frozen and sealed in metal container, along with others who had chosen the same pathway.
Cryonics has been described an “an ambulance into the future” that, it could be further said, travels along a road into eternity. It holds a place in some peoples’ thinking that was once held by some forms of religious belief. The ancient religion of Hinduism has a belief in reincarnation. This holds that, on the death of a person, that person’s body decays and returns to the substances of which a physical body is composed, but the person’s spirit, or essence, reappears in another physical object or being – the latter depending on the kind of life the person has led from one life to another.
The Christian religion has a belief in resurrection. Based on the myth of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, this significant teaching within Christianity postulates that Christian believers who accept this happening and effectively make it the basis of their lives, will, when they die, be resurrected in the manner that the faith presumes was the experience of Jesus. There are variations on this belief linking it to immediacy after death, or as an event that will happen on the last day of the earth’s physical existence (the “Last Days”). This life-saving privilege will only be for Christian believers or, more specifically, those who have followed a particular, if not peculiar, way of being a Christian – popularly known as “evangelicals”.
Therefore, and generally speaking, theistic religions, that is, those that have a belief in the existence of a supreme God – a creator and redeemer of life, who also provides for and sustains this life – posit the idea that there is a form of eternal life. It follows from this that theistic religions generally believe that all life is in the hands of and dependent upon this supreme God. It is highly doubtful that much, if any, credence would be given by these religions to the idea that the continuation of life beyond biological death is dependent upon cryonics (the cryopreservation of human life by physical scientists), or that eternal life for human beings is dependent upon any existing or future scientific process.
Apart from the metaphysical questions surrounding the issues of cryogenics or cryonics, there are quite clearly a number of practical considerations.
If a human body is to be frozen for a substantial length of time will the body’s organs, especially the brain, remain in the state in which it was frozen? In other words what would be the possible damage to a body caused by the very process of cryopreservation? Scientific opinion is divided on this matter, but it is generally conceded that a prolonged state of suspended animation would have deleterious effects on the physical human body.
Should such a process as the foregoing be a genuine physical possibility, however, what could be the psychological ramifications? What are the possible consequences for a human being brought back to life, consciousness and experience at a time in the future that has outlived, by numbers of years, and surpassed, in cultural, social and physical existence, the form of life that the revivified person has left behind?
The absence of immediate family and friends, the changes to geography and environment, the confrontation with new cultural and social practices and habits, perhaps even with a whole new range of understandings as to what it means to be human, would all have a major impact and effect on the physical and psychological being of the reawakened individual – a child in understanding, if not in age. These are major existential questions – not so much a “blast from the past” as a “blast from the future”!
As with most things in life, the financial cost of the cryopreservation of life has also to be considered. It is reliably estimated that such a process would cost many thousands of pounds – certainly more than could be afforded by most persons in British society, even by those willing to invest in insurance and life assurance policies. Would it not be more beneficial to the whole of society if money spent on cryopreservation of human life went into medical research instead, thus benefitting the whole of society? It is worthwhile noting, however, that at present the world’s foremost foundation for cryogenics and cryonics is located in the USA and operates as a not-for-profit organization.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, cryonics would seem to be the prerogative of the wealthy or those prepared to sacrifice many things in the present life in order to taste the possible opportunities, delicacies and novelties, as well as the unknown realities, uncertainties and challenges of a future existence. One more issue in the catalogue of social justice concerns.
Of course, there is also the question that, if the cryopreservation of human beings was to become the norm, where would all the frozen bodies be stored? There are presently growing ecological concerns about the land allocation for the establishment of cemeteries to bury the dead. Cremation is by no means the acceptable practice, especially amongst those, particularly the religious, who believe in an after-life and wish the physical remains of their body to be available for re-assembly at the appropriate time and place (in Christianity this is usually known as “The Rapture” or the “Second Coming” of Jesus).
It is also of interest to speculate on what effect the preserving of human life through the science of cryogenics would have on human reproduction and the shifting of human populations. If a form of eternal life could be eventually guaranteed by science then what motivation would there be to re-populate the globe through human sexual reproduction, or even of being the appropriate stewards of the earth’s resources?
In the age of the development of such human sexual preferences as homosexuality, transgenderism, BDSM and same sex marriages, would human sexuality move away from copulation for procreation and family bonding and be replaced by more exotic, if not erotic, practices? What would be the implications for the institution of marriage, the meaning and role of the family, and the societal welfare systems that supports these features of present-day society, as well as the nature, extent, cost and consequences of research into a wide variety of life-threatening and life-ending diseases?
In the case of the 14 year-old girl requesting that she be cryogenically frozen, the matter was raised as to whether she was of sufficient personal maturity to make decisions of this kind. It would appear that her parents disagreed with each other about which direction she should take in – to freeze or not to freeze? The fact that she wrote to a judge to ask for a legal decision suggests to some that, in the future, this basically personal ethical decision may become a general legal ruling. Is there a danger that the ethical concerns surrounding the ending of one’s life, death and its consequences would be undermined by legalities, as well as by financial constraints?
As a member of the Campaign for the Dignity in Dying movement, I am of the view that an individual has the right to determine the time and circumstances of her or his death providing, of course, that an individual is of a rational mind and of sufficient maturity to make such a decision. Such persons are often surrounded by support from their families and agencies that exist for the purpose. They are not alone in the choices they have to make.
There are few people who actively want to die. It is generally the wish of those who are living to hang-on to life. But death is a biological process; we begin dying from the moment we are born. Before we were born we had no idea of what life was (is); when we are dead there will be no memory of the life we have lived. This view is as much philosophical as it is scientific and would, no doubt, be challenged and open to debate for those who believe, religiously or otherwise, in some form of life after death – eternal life, if you like.
The foregoing does not reduce the value of the legacy that individuals may leave behind when they die. A form of immortality, though not eternal life, can be seen in the memories a person leaves with family and friends; literature that has been written and can be read by succeeding generations, even by those who did not personally know the person whose literature they are reading; as well as by financial legacies that are left with a variety of charities and foundations.
A good friend once said to me, with due seriousness and concern for “telling it like it is”, that “We are a long time dead”. To many it would seem a quite natural aspiration to prolong life. If this can be achieved through the cryopreservation of human life, then it is something to be thought about. Some people are obviously even now preparing for this eventuality.
Whilst medical science would hesitate to give more than a 1% chance of cryonics being successful, for some this may well be a sufficient basis for moving in the direction of an unknown and extended future in a deep freeze. For them, the pathway to the future is not so much a road less travelled as a road to be travelled.


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The winds of change

“They arrive suddenly and inexplicably. …the media go into meltdown, …scientists study their behaviour, trying to make sense of it. The question on everybody’s mind is: do they come in peace, or is their plan to crush the world like a paper cup? But enough about Donald Trump supporters…” (Luke Buckmaster, film critic for the Australian Daily Review).
Luke Buckmaster then goes on to review the new film Arrival, currently having its worldwide premier. The movie is about the arrival on earth of a strange species of being and their appearance in twelve different locations across the globe. The film has been described as “a stunning science fiction movie with deep implications for today”. It is considered by a number of critics to be one of the year’s best movies about linguistics, metaphors and aliens, and, yes, it was produced before Trump became the President-elect of the USA! Having myself seen the movie, I can concur with the view of the film critics.
The film’s premise hinges on the idea, shared by many linguists and philosophers of language, that we do not all experience the same reality. As observed by that great philosopher of language, Ludwig Wittgenstein, members of any community develop ways of speaking that serve their needs – their reality – and these constitute the language-games, the cultural roadmaps,  they employ.  “Arrival is about more than talking to one another. It’s about the roadmaps we use to navigate the world and that these mental roadmaps need constant adjustment”. So, similarities with the past week in the USA are not entirely unavoidable!
On 8th November, 2016, the citizens of the United States of America voted to elect Donald Trump as the 45th President of their country. To many, in both the USA and across the world, this was a most surprising election outcome as Mr Trump was something of an unknown political species. So too, his speeches on the stumps were anything but peaceful! Mr Trump has had no significant experience in politics or public service, certainly nowhere near as much as the person he defeated in the election, Hillary Rodham Clinton –  the Democratic Senator from New York, former USA Secretary of State and wife of the former President Bill Clinton.
Donald Trump may be described as a billionaire property tycoon who has built a string of impressive buildings across the USA and, in the process, bankrupting himself on several occasions and managing to pay minimal tax – personal or business! His lifestyle emphasises his wealth – with expensive homes in a number of major North American cities, golf courses in Scotland, a private Boeing aircraft, the Trump Tower in New York, and more, including a celebrity-style extended family.
Yet, it was this Presidential candidate that managed to attract huge numbers of voters from the so-called “rust belt” areas of mid-west United States, unemployed and low-paid blue-collar workers across the north American states, white voters disillusioned with the so-called “establishment” politicians, and even large numbers of women – a gender that had been insulted on a number of occasions by Mr Trump’s misogynistic comments during his campaign for the presidency. Donald Trump was able to tap-into the reality of this highly dissatisfied section of the North American population and indulge it in the language-games with which it were happy and of which it were accepting .
Language has great power, as alluded to in the Peter Weir film of 1989, Dead Poets Society. One commentator on this film postulated: “Words, so innocent and seemingly inert on the page of a dictionary, take on a profoundly different character when they are purposefully and articulately employed in the public arena, a place where they have the capacity to both unite and divide us, to cement accord or inflame dissent.”
Donald Trump claimed that he was telling the citizens of the USA “how it really was”. His style was deliberately confrontational with respect to a variety of USA political “sacred cows”, including those of his own Republican Party, and yet, despite this approach, perhaps in spite of it, he succeeded in capturing the election for the Republican Party, himself and his divisive personal perspectives and political policies. During the campaign he expressed the view that the election processes and outcomes were rigged. After the election, of course, this viewpoint changed – all was now sweetness and light, as well as fair-minded and correct!
Within hours of Donald Trump’s election victory, demonstrations erupted in several cities across the USA, notably in the nation’s capital of Washington (outside of the White House), New York on the east coast, Chicago in the mid-west and San Francisco on the west coast (note: nothing of the kind happened in the more conservative and Christian evangelical, hence Republican, southern states). Demonstrators took to the streets to emphasise that Mr Trump was not their President, his values were not theirs – they did not share his cultural roadmaps – and to express the fears they hold for the future of the country if President-elect Trump follows through on the type of policies he enunciated, albeit with little detail, during the presidential campaign.
Mr Trump came under considerable criticism from his own Republican Party during the election campaign. However, it was noticeable that, following his election win, the Republican Party more or less closed ranks around him. Isn’t it wonderful what power, or the promise of power, does to politicians! The United States of America now has four years, or more, in which to digest, even glory in, the fact that the Republican Party has control of the Presidency, both houses of the US Congress, very likely the Supreme Court judiciary and, for added measure, a friend at the FBI!
A number of commentators have pointed out the supposed similarities – apart from the ubiquitous appearances of Nigel Farage, the default leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) – between the events in the USA and the outcome of the British referendum on membership of the European Union. Similarities have included the way in which the polls were confounded; the ethnic breakdown of the vote; the focus on the extent of the disillusion accompanying the white vote; the immigration system; and the manner in which the political establishment were being blamed for the downturn in the nation’s economic fortune. A rallying cry for both Trump’s campaign and the “leave” proponents during the British EU referendum seemed to have been “power to the people”.
In some ways this appears to have been a legitimate position to take – a protest against the political establishment and politicians who had seemingly forgotten that their first task in government was to protect the country’s citizens, rather than their own status and aggrandisement.
Yet, to what extent does a figure like Donald Trump represent the hopes and aspirations of blue-collar, working-class persons from the wreckage of urban conurbations and  dilapidated inner cities? Does a billionaire property entrepreneur speak to the hopes and aspirations of an economic underclass – poorer, low-skilled and under-paid or unemployed industrial and service sector workers? What racist or xenophobic emotions are stirred in susceptible people when an aspiring president voices objections to immigrants – illegal or otherwise, and non-Christian religions? What national and individual economic confidence is undermined by a disproportionately wealthy leader who preaches opposition to established trade deals and mutual defence treaties, and who, moreover, practises and openly encourages tax avoidance?
Trump informed the people of the USA that their politicians kept telling them that “America was great”, but it wasn’t. He then articulated what the people wanted to hear that, under his leadership, “the USA could be great again”. In supporting this observation, the Melbourne-based commentator, the actor Neil Pigot, said: “So what we have what is perhaps the greatest irony of the century, a divisive, misogynistic, messianic nihilist who is one of the most visible beneficiaries of neoliberalism leading the most powerful nation on earth away from another betrayal and into a new age. The sentiments that surround Brexit, though subtly different, are fundamentally the same; the language of politicians purporting one thing, while the reality that people saw in their streets was something completely different. Betrayal.”
Of course, the one critical area that was not mentioned by Donald Trump during his election campaign, neither by Nigel Farage during the British EU referendum, was that of the effects of globalization and, more particularly, the greed of the corporate world – be it in the USA, the UK or on the wider global front. This is to be expected for Mr Trump and, lest it be forgotten, Mr Farage are themselves members of that fraternity and participate, or have done, in its greed and exclusivity. In his election campaign, Donald Trump promised, with respect to the Washington elite, a “bonfire of regulations”; in reality, it is likely that his forthcoming presidency will issue in a “bonfire of vanities” – much of which will be of his own making!
It remains to be seen if President Donald Trump, who became the President-elect with a million less votes than Hillary Clinton (even though, obviously, he won the numbers in the electoral college), will follow-through with the policies he spoke of from the podium and, in doing so, raised the hopes of the 25% of the voting public in the United States that will put him into the Oval Office. Have the citizens of the United States been sold a dream, or a pup? Was the voting public of the USA promised a package of policies assembled in order to win votes but, with the election won, will eventually go the way of so many political promises – into the ether? Will Donald Trump prove to be any wiser or possess greater integrity than those who came before him and about whom he was so abjectly critical?
I am reminded here that the British nation narrowly voted to leave the European Union on the strength of the Brexiteers’ (those who favoured leaving the EU) dubious promise to pay into the NHS the £350m per week saved from paying the EU; to drastically reduce immigration (especially the reduction of those “workers” from within the EU); to close UK borders and, ever-mindful of the glory days of the British empire, to re-establish British sovereignty, that is, to end the so-called dominance of the European Parliament and courts of law over the their British counterparts and return power to the latter.
Yet, at the first instance of this returning of “power to the people”, this ideal was shown to be what it always was – false! A presentation of a successful peoples’ petition was made to the British High Court. The intent of the petition was to prevent the executive of the British Conservative Government bypassing Parliament and using the ancient “royal prerogative” (the last hope of the scoundrel) to instigate the requisite Article 50 in order to commence the official process of removing the UK from the EU.
The response of the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, to this decision of the High Court, was to order a review of the High Court’s decision by the Supreme Court – in the hope of reversing the court’s decision. Naturally, this action was loudly supported by the Brexiteers, including those who had bleated so vociferously about restoring the sovereignty of the British Parliament and courts of law!
There are a number of other similarities between the British EU referendum and the Presidential elections in the USA. However, there is the inescapable realization that on either side of the pond, people have been promised a mess of pottage that, in the future unfolding of the political, economic, social and cultural life of both nations, may well prove to be, at best, a bowl of wishful-thinking and ill-conceived dreams, or, at worst, a can of deception and lies.
The United States of America fatefully faces at least four years of having Donald Trump as its President, with the Republican Party dominating its governance and judicial proceedings. During the same period the United Kingdom confronts a crucial  engagement with a prolonged period of national instability as it undertakes the process of leaving the European Union.
The winds of change have been sown and are blowing across both nations. It is to be hoped that these winds do not reap the whirlwind!
Regular readers of this blog will probably note that this is article 100 in the series. This is, for me, somewhat of a journalistic milestone. However, I hope that, one day, I will reach the magic number in terms of my age (without any expectation of a congratulatory letter from the reigning monarch of the day – for, if there is such a post, then it will be duly marked RTS).
In the meantime, I can only reflect that, apart from the occasional bank balance, my first examination as a telecommunications technician-in-training, and for three years in a row with the results of my A Level classes in Philosophy and Ethics, the only other time that the number 100 has featured in my life was when I achieved that batting figure in a game of cricket – in fact, on reflection with some satisfaction, I reached that particular milestone on three occasions!
But, cricket is a team game and A Level grades are achievable by classes of students, whereas, writing a blog is a measure of my wider individual interests, literary undertakings and the patience and cognition of my readers. Even so, a blog article is stimulated by both personal and worldwide events, the encouragement of others and the value of a good proof reader – in this instance, my wife Vicky.
Though there is singular value in the writing of a blog, nevertheless, the purpose of such is that it is actually and collectively read. I have sought both variety and depth in what I have written over time – in such fields as philosophy and ethics, religion and theology, politics and contemporary events, sport and music. I have eschewed entries in Facebook and Twitter, relying on my networks in the UK and Australia, as well as an apparently expanding readership in various other parts of the world.
In the final summation, I am dependent on your readership, comments and encouragement and, further, I am appreciative of the initial suggestion of my younger son, Glenn, that, post-retirement, I occupy some of my welcomed recreational space, time and thought in the writing of a blog. That was over four years ago and the rest, as they say about political elections, referenda and the contents of blog articles, is history!


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Brexit: Part 2 – Out of step

Nigel Farage is the former and currently default leader of the UK Independence Party who, as a British Member of the European Parliament (MEP), had for many years campaigned for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union (Brexit). His was arguably the loudest voice in a triumphalist chorus on the “leave” side of the EU Referendum on the morning of 24 June, 2016, when the result of the British “YES” vote to leave the EU became known.
It was Farage who was responsible for the billboard poster that showed a massive queue of immigrants – many with the appearance of being African or middle eastern in origin – waiting to obtain entry to the UK. It is the same Nigel Farage who was seen recently on television speaking at a campaign rally for Donald Trump, the outrageous Republican candidate for the next presidency of the United States of America. For many, Trump wears his anti-immigrant racism on his sleeve; Farage is seen as being somewhat more subtle.
A recent edition of the Australian Daily Review carried an article with the heading, “’Please explain’: A tragicomic portrait of a bigot, sympathetically done’. It was written by the controversial Australian journalist, Helen Razer. In part the extract stated: “Europe is now almost full of racist politicians as it is of bad discos, and didn’t Nigel Farage do a marvellous job of taking a white British working class, battered by the austerity rent-seekers demand, and blame it all on the foreigners?”
To many, the above, and especially Razer’s view of Europe, would be deemed a quite extreme view, especially seen from half-way around the globe. However, in the period since the British nation voted to withdraw from the European Union, a disturbing level of apparent xenophobia, even racism, has been detected as being embedded in British culture. This has been primarily seen in comments made at the local level, rather than on a national or institutional scale.
Living in the UK are many persons who have come to this country to study and work in order to pursue their economic, cultural, educational and social interests. Amongst their number there are currently deep misgivings as to what their future will be like in consequence of Brexit. Despite assurances that the interests of these incomers will be protected, there is a mistrust of this situation given that the history of the present government, an administration that has overseen a radical policy of economic austerity, has not been encouraging in such areas as human rights, worker’s rights, trades unions’ legislation and overseeing immigration programmes.
To take a cue from some further comments of Helen Razer on election and referendum voting patterns, it is, of course, a lesson that liberal progressives need to learn that simply to ‘call out’ racism in individuals, rather than outright condemnation of the same, will ensure that people in all western democracies will continue to vote for persons like Trump and Farage. These are political actors who look for scapegoats to blame for the breakdowns in society, but promise the lot to those who will support their misguided views and simple solutions.
There are reasons why poorer, working class people, worn down by life, will vote for political programmes that will encourage xenophobia and racism. That is not, however, to support these programmes nor advocate voting for and rewarding those who promote them.
Casting her net a little wider, Razer makes the following observations: “The underemployed American living in the Appalachian ghetto does not vote for a candidate (like Clinton, for example) who insists that they use respectful liberal language and pretend that the ugly America they live in is a great nation.” Similarly, “…the underemployed Queenslander who can’t afford to run an air conditioner does not vote Green. They vote for the person who promises them dignity and a wage.”
It might also be added that, for example, the unemployed steelworker in Sheffield, the redundant coalminer in the Welsh valleys, or the car assembly worker in the north-east of England is not going to vote for a political party which offers no promise of investment in traditional British manufacturing industries.
It is pertinent perhaps to add to the above the suggestion that ‘sympathetic TV portraits of migrants don’t work to change the minds of racists’, so I don’t know why anybody might think that ‘a sympathetic portrait of a racist might change the mind of a progressive’ (author unknown). That is why, in post-Brexit Britain, there is such a present, public and ongoing outrage over attacks on job-seekers from within the EU. Racist and xenophobic attacks are extremely offensive to British liberalism and humanity.
In all of the post-referendum discussion and confusion, it has seemingly been forgotten that the Prime Minister responsible for authorising the EU Referendum, David Cameron, has resigned from his post. In doing so he announced an elongated list of those who are to receive “honours”. It seems quite ludicrous that a failed Prime Minister should reward others in this way, especially when these honours are conferred by the present monarch.
The reigning monarch is seen as the focal point of national sovereignty – even in a democracy and even though she is unelected! Yet the monarch sits imperiously at the head of an establishment against which, if we are to believe the narrative, so many British people, particularly in England, raised their voting voices against! These same people are probably those that still enthusiastically sing “God Save the Queen” at football matches featuring the national team of England. Fact is, truly, stranger than fiction.
The same monarch is, of course, the Head of the Church of England, the established church in the land – with tentacles to other religious institutions of the so-called British Commonwealth. The present British government, led by an Anglican vicar’s daughter, is seriously discussing reintroducing a “Minister for Faith” into the government ministries. It is interesting to speculate as to who would be a suitable choice for this position and what relation, if any, this secular minister will have with the monarch!
It will be obvious from all of the above that I am a pro-European and that I voted in favour of the UK remaining within the EU. Indeed, being a convinced federalist, I am of the view that the European project has a viable future that will be realised by becoming more, not less, European – even if that ambition now seems a little more remote from a British perspective. For me, the EU Referendum vote is out of step with reality. For this reason I am a friend of The Federal Trust, an organisation for education and research – enlightening the debate on good governance. How badly this is needed in present-day Britain!
In a recent pamphlet, ‘Brexit, what Brexit’, Brendan Donnelly, the Director of The Federal Trust, said: “Within the British government and its administrative structures, it is increasingly coming to be realized that extricating the United Kingdom from the European Union and establishing a new relationship with the Union will be a gigantic logistical undertaking, involving many different and overlapping negotiations”.
There are those who are of the view, wrongly for Brendan Donnelly and many others (including this writer), that extricating the UK from the European Union will be a simple matter of triggering Article 50 (the formal mechanism for leaving the EU) and all else – amicable relations with European countries, trade deals worldwide, British ‘problems’ solved, and so on down the list – will naturally follow. And all within a period of two years! Unfortunately, undoing forty years of involvement with Europe, and re-establishing as yet unquantifiable trade agreements as well as social and cultural relations with the rest of the world, will not be quite so easy or comfortable for the British Brexit mind-set.
As the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has said: “Brexit means Brexit”. But what does that really mean: for economic prospects, race relations, human and workers’ rights, job opportunities, international cooperation in security matters, and that old warhorse – national sovereignty? It is also ironic that those who have spoken the loudest and longest about national sovereignty are amongst those who now wish to delay, even avoid, parliamentary scrutiny over the details of the British negotiating directions and outcomes (it seems to be a case of not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing). In all of this there is, of course, the philosophical question of “Who benefits?”
Perhaps the penultimate word on this, for the time being, belongs to Brendan Donnelly: “There are many millions of voters unwilling simply to acquiesce in Brexit and whose traditional party loyalties have been shaken by the events of the EU referendum. The course of the Brexit negotiations over the coming years is unlikely to reassure them that the present structure of British politics adequately reflects their concerns”.
In conclusion, it is appropriate to mention that there are those who hold tenaciously to the belief that a more united, flexible and effective Europe is a dream worth pursuing. Such persons consider that Brexit is a step too far and out of step with the realities of the contemporary world.



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Brexit: Part 1 – A step too far

On the morning of June 24th, 2016, the citizens of the UK awoke to the realization that the United Kingdom had voted to leave the European Union. This process was commonly referred to as Brexit.
In the three months since then there have been constant media programmes and articles on Brexit, analysing and commenting on what this decision will mean for the UK and the EU. In the process, political party loyalties have been shaken and whole communities, even families, have been divided. Lies, misinformation and obfuscation during the referendum campaign have been exposed and calls have been made for an additional referendum to vote on what Brexit outcomes the British government will finally obtain and legislate for.
On the side of those who voted to leave the EU there have been proclamations that sovereignty will return to the UK, that the nation will revert to retaining control of its national borders, and that British jobs will once again be available for British people. Immigration and economics seem to have been at the heart of the desire to leave the EU.
On the other hand, those who championed the EU cause argued on the basis of such things as an alternative economics, national security and the desirability of maintaining immigration in order to supply the labour that the UK will require in the attempt to diversify and sustain its national production and consumption. So too, and perhaps not as vocally as some would have wished, the fact that the nature and purpose of the EU has been a major influence for an extended period of peace on a continent that had previously known centuries of conflict and warfare.
The Brexit supporters have pointed to the fact that the country seems not to have been economically affected by the decision to leave the EU. Of course, it needs to be kept in mind that the decision to leave the EU is only the first step in a far-reaching process. Seemingly countless further decisions will need to be made as the UK negotiates with the EU and other trading partners before the process is finalized.
Furthermore, as stated by Stephen Haseler, the Professor of Government Studies and Director of the Global Policy Institute at the London Metropolitan University: “The economic life of British citizens is primarily determined by changes in the global economy. Economic policy and management is increasingly the product of inter-governmental agreements and accommodations – both formal and informal.” It is at least arguable that this whole process has been made more difficult for the UK by its withdrawal from the EU.
The argument that the UK will regain its sovereignty by its withdrawal from the EU seems spurious in the light of the fact that leaving the EU will make no difference to the British elective system and voting rights, the presence of a non-elected House of Lords, the over-reaching power of a government executive and the absence of a written British constitution.
However, given that ‘sovereignty’ seems to have been a major factor with those wishing to leave the EU, it is noticeable, though perhaps not too surprising, that little was mentioned in the EU referendum campaign about the British monarchy. In fact, there seems to have been what Peter Kim once called a “deafening silence on an intriguing constitutional question”.
The existence of an hereditary monarchy which sits at the apex of an entrenched class system would obviously be affected by the UK’s increasing involvement with the EU – observe the lack of active political involvement of other continuing royal houses within Europe, e.g., the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Spain. It does not require too great an imagination to realize which side of the EU referendum the members of the extended British royal family would have been!
There is also the ambiguity, if not outright contradiction, of the British people taking issue with increasing the power of the EU – which has an elected parliament, democratic accountability and the power that comes with the ‘principle of subsidiarity’ – whilst, at the same time, being apparently impervious to the implications of maintaining a privileged and unelected royal family. The influence and power of what has been called the “royal-state” is an aspect of British life that is little known about or reflected on.
In his book, The End of the House of Windsor – Birth of a British Republic (1993), Stephen Haseler, speaking in favour of closer union between Britain and the EU, stated: “The new union invades the royal-state, robbing its institutions, one by one, of their power and legitimacy. The monarchy is reduced to the extent that British independence is reduced, and can find no role in the European Union because the new Europe rejects hereditary institutions.”
Stephen Haseler’s book should be recommended reading for all genuine and would-be republicans, as well as compulsory reading for those who consider British royalty to be benign. The book is as important today, perhaps more so, than it was when first published. I acknowledge it as a major source of inspiration for and reflection on a significant portion of what this article contains.
Professor Haseler quotes the republican writer Tom Nairn who, in considering the influence of the British Parliament and the Monarchy, has said that, when the British look at themselves in a mirror, “a gilded image is reflected back, made up of sonorous past achievement, enviable stability and the painted folklore of their Parliament and Monarchy. Though aware that this enchanted glass reflects only a decreasingly useful lie, they have naturally found it difficult to give up. After all, the ‘reflection’ is really their structure of national identity – what they seem to be is itself an important dimension of what they are.”
In the light of the above, it would be of genuine interest to discover to what extent the voting patterns in the recent EU referendum reflected views about royalty, i.e. were those who voted to leave the EU more in favour of the continuation of the British monarchy, with those who voted to remain in the EU less favourable. For, it is axiomatic that to abandon British national sovereignty would mean to also abandon the British sovereign. Obviously, as the outcome of the EU referendum showed, for many in contemporary Britain this is currently a step too far.
At around the same time as Tom Nairn (see above) made his comments, Lord Cobbold, writing to The Times in 1992, suggested that in Britain “the political divide of the future is between Europeans and nationalists.” For the time being at least (and with the obvious exception of the Scottish nationalists – the majority of whom voted to remain in the EU), it would seem that the British have made up their collective mind on which side of this divide they wish to be.


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