Archive for Theresa May

The Final Shootout

Posted in Film, Music, Politics with tags , , , , on December 6, 2018 by telescoper

“Only connect” they say so I thought I’d connect two topical items with this video clip of one of my favourite movie scenes.

The first item is that on 15th February next year the legendary composer Ennio Morricone will be conducting a concert of his music in Dublin. Moricone’s 90th birthday was on 10th November 2018.

The other thing is that the UK Parliament is currently debating the terms of Brexit. It seems that there are now only three options: accept Theresa May’s ugly Withdrawal Agreement, reject it and suffer a bad `No Deal’ Brexit or take the sensible, good choice of withdrawing Article 50, admitting it was all a terrible idea in the first place, and remaining in the European Union.

So here we are then, the climactic final shoot-out from Sergio Leone’s famous Spaghetti Western The Good The Bad And The Ugly, featuring Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef respectively, together with superb (and very complex) music on the soundtrack from Morricone. We all know who wins in the end, at least in the film.

P.S. Hats off to the guitarist Alessandro Alessandroni (who also did the whistling on the soundtrack) producing that unforgettable twangy sound with a hint of scordatura

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We and They

Posted in Biographical, Literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , on November 25, 2018 by telescoper

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They.

(from `We and They‘, by Rudyard Kipling.)

A few days ago one of my colleagues here in Maynooth mentioned that he found it amusing that, although I’ve been living and working here in Ireland for less than a year, I have already taken to referring to the British as `They’ rather than `We’. He went on to point out that he noticed this transformation from First Person to Third Person some months ago.

I hadn’t realised that I was doing this, but I suppose it is a reflection of the fact that I have accepted that I will almost certainly be spending the rest of my working life in Ireland, and will probably end my days here too. It has taken relatively little time of observing Britain from the other side of the Irish Sea to recognize that it is changing into something grotesque and horrible. I want no part of what it is becoming, a squalid xenophobic rathole run by crooks, liars, and narrow-minded bigots. My new home is far from perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than Brexit Britain.

About a year ago I wrote (from Cardiff) about my reasons for moving to Maynooth. Here is a quote:

Because I’ve lived here all my life I thought I would find it difficult to leave Britain. I was quite traumatised by the Brexit referendum, as one would be by the death of a close relative, but it made me re-examine my life. There is a time when you have to move on, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m done here.

I haven’t changed my mind.

Not that I now consider myself fully Irish. Passport and citizenship notwithstanding, I still feel like a foreigner here and probably always will. I lived for over fifty years in Britain and do not have sufficient experience of Ireland to feel really part of it. Yet. That may come. But to appropriate the phrase Theresa May used in her Lancaster House speech last year I am proud to be for the time being, and perhaps forever, a `Citizen of Nowhere’. I don’t mind that, and a little bit of autobiography that might explain why I see things the way I do.

I was born in Wallsend (on Tyneside) in the North East of England. My parents were both born just before World War II started, also in the area where I was born. Of my four grandparents, one was born in England, one in Northern Ireland, one in Scotland, and one in Wales. I always smile when I had to put my nationality on a form, because I always put `United Kingdom’. Of course being born in England makes me English too, but I find that less defining than `UK’ or `British’ or even `Geordie’, and now of course there’s the Irish dimension. To be honest, my ancestry means that I generally find the whole concept of nationality fundamentally silly. I find nationalism silly too, except for those occasions – regrettably frequent nowadays – when nationalism takes on the guise of xenophobia. Then it is truly sinister. Nationalism is a tool by which unscrupulous individuals whip up hatred for political gain, regardless of the economic or social consequences. This is what lies behind Brexit.

Anyway, talking about Theresa May, it appears that the Prime Minister has written a letter to the British public asking for them to support her `deal’. I find it very curious that she has done this when, without another referendum or a General Election, the British public is denied any way of either expressing or withholding such support. Is this an admission that there will have to be another vote?

It appears from her letter that the PM is particularly happy about one aspect of the deal:

We will take back control of our borders, by putting an end to the free movement of people once and for all.

Apart from the fact that the UK always had control of its borders anyway, I find it absolutely astonishing that any politician could brag about removing from its own citizens the right to free movement across 27 countries. Freedom of movement was and is one of the great benefits of the European Union. Outside the EU, Theresa May’s `hostile environment’ in which all foreigners are viewed with suspicion and contempt will become even more hostile. It is just a matter of time before the unlawful deportations that the Home Office have inflicted on members of the Windrush generation will begin happening to Europeans currently living in the United Kingdom.

Towards the end of her awful letter, there is this:

We will then begin a new chapter in our national life. I want that to be a moment of renewal and reconciliation for our whole country. It must mark the point when we put aside the labels of ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ for good and we come together again as one people.

Excuse me, but the time for reconciliation was in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 Referendum result. Instead, Mrs May went out of her way to insult, denigrate and marginalize everyone who voted Remain; she never apologized for the `Citizens of Nowhere’ jibe and her pals in the right-wing added other pejoratives like ‘saboteur’ and ‘enemy of the people’. Like so many other things she says and does, Mrs May’s letter is so phony it is painful.

Worse, the Prime Minister has continued to insult European citizens working in the UK by accusing them of `jumping the queue’. It seems that the Prime Minister just can’t stop her deep-seated xenophobia showing itself from time to time. It’s her defining characteristic, and it is sure to be the defining characteristic of post-Brexit Britain.

The Great Election Gamble

Posted in Cardiff, Politics with tags , , on June 9, 2017 by telescoper

Well, yesterday’s general election didn’t exactly go to plan for the Tories, did it?

It turns out that, yet again, most of the opinion polls were way off the mark and the Labour Party’s share of the vote exceeded most expectations, including mine. Theresa May’s  decision on calling the election was a silly gamble to try to increase her majority in the House of Commons which, having failed spectacularly, has resulted in her losing that majority altogether. Theresa May nevertheless continues as Prime Minister courtesy of leading the largest party and doing a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, a reactionary group of homophobes and young-earth creationists. We’ll have to wait and see how long that unholy alliance lasts. My bet would be for another election in October…

he PM was quoted last night that she had `no intention of resigning’ in the aftermath of the election she previously said she had no intention of calling. I infer that means she will soon resign. I don’t have any sympathy for her: if there’s one kind of politician I really dislike it’s the kind that takes the electorate for granted.

Although I’m personally delighted to see the Tories given a smackdown, it’s best not to get too carried away. For one thing, we’re still up Brexit Creek without a paddle and the UK’s already weak negotiating hand just got considerably weaker. The other thing worth saying is that although Jeremy Corbyn has gone up enormously in my estimation by the way he led his party, Labour still didn’t win even against a Conservative campaign that was unspeakably dire.

Anyway, regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Bonkers) will know that I like to place wagers on elections. My normal strategy of the compensation bet – putting money on the outcome I don’t want to happen – would have been useless in this situation as the Conservatives were odds-on to win so the return would have been poor. I therefore decided to use the occasion for my first foray into spread betting.

I took this decision when I saw that the spread being offered on the number of seats won by Labour was (205-212). In a spread bet you place a deposit (`margin’) and then wager on whether the actual total is above or below the spread by £X per seat; if it’s inside the spread you lose your deposit. In the lingo, placing a bet to win above the spread is called a `buy’; below is `sell’. The danger of spread betting is that if you bet high and the actual result is low then you lose £X per seat. Losses can therefore exceed your deposit if you’re badly wrong. This is why I’ve never bet this way before. Believe it or not, I’m actually very cautious when it comes to gambling.

The quoted spread seemed to me to be centred very low (in line with the majority of opinion poll predictions), but I felt it highly unlikely that even a bad night for Labour would have them ending up on fewer than 200 seats, because there are so many safe Labour seats. I therefore wasn’t too concerned about the possibility of a truly disastrous loss. So I paid my deposit and bought at £100 per seat.

Suffice to say that it’s my round in the pub tonight….

P.S. I forgot to mention another memorable event last night: the first seat to declare was Newcastle Central, who beat arch-rivals Sunderland to the prize for the fastest count.

P.P.S. A couple of other things worth mentioning are that Kevin Brennan won my seat (Cardiff West) with a hugely increased majority. In fact all seats in Cardiff went to Labour, including Cardiff North which had previously been held by the Conservatives. Brighton Kemptown, in which constituency I lived before coming back to Cardiff and which was also previously held by the Tories, also went to Labour.

We’ll Be Together Again

Posted in Jazz, Politics with tags , , , , , on March 29, 2017 by telescoper

So, we’ve come to it at last.

At 12.30 BST the Prime Minister’s letter invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will be delivered to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. This will begin the process by which the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. It also begins the process of dismantling the United Kingdom itself. Scottish independence is now an inevitability as is, probably on a slightly longer timescale, the reunification of Ireland.

I am sad beyond words that this country has taken this path to self-destruction, but can only hope that we eventually see sense and change or mind at some point in the next two years, or return to the fold at some later stage.

No artist was better at conveying a sense of tragedy and loss through their music than Billie Holiday, and here’s a track by her that perfectly expresses my feelings at this bleak time:

No tears, no fears
Remember there’s always tomorrow
So what if we have to part
We’ll be together again

 

 

A Picture of Theresa May 

Posted in Politics with tags , on March 19, 2017 by telescoper

Apparently our Prime Minister has requested that the following picture be removed from Google’s  image search facility.

If she’d like me to remove it from this blog, I will do so if she posts a comment below explaining why I should.

Hard BrExit Reality Bites UK Science

Posted in Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , , , , on January 17, 2017 by telescoper

Before lunch today I listened to the Prime Minister’s much-heralded speech (full text here) at Lancaster House giving a bit more detail about the UK government’s approach to forthcoming negotiations to leave the European Union. As I had expected the speech was mainly concerned with stating the obvious – especially about the UK leaving the so-called Single Market – though there was an interesting, if rather muddled, discussion of some kind of associate membership of the Customs Union.

As I said when I blogged about the EU Referendum result back in June last year

For example, there will be no access to the single market post-BrExit without free movement of people.

The EU has made it perfectly clear all along that it will not compromise on the “four freedoms” that represent the principles on which the Single Market (correct name; “Internal Market”) is based. The UK government has also made it clear that it is running scared of the anti-immigration lobby in the Conservative Party and UKIP, despite the mountain of evidence (e.g. here) that immigration actually benefits the UK economy rather than harming it. A so-called “hard BrExit” approach has therefore been inevitable from the outset.

In any case, it always seemed to me that leaving the EU (and therefore giving up democratic representation on the bodies that govern the single market) but remaining in the Single Market would be completely illogical to anyone motivated by the issue of “sovereignty” (whatever that means).  So I think it always was – and still is – a choice between a hard BrExit and no BrExit at all. There’s no question in my mind – and Theresa May’s speech has hardened my views considerably – that remaining in the EU is by far the best option for the UK. That outcome is looking unlikely now, but there is still a long way to go and many questions have still to be answered, including whether the Article 50 notification can be revoked and whether the devolved assemblies in Scotland and Northern Ireland have to give separate consent. Interestingly, the Conservative Party manifesto for the 2015 General Election included a commitment to work within the Single Market, so it would be within the constitutional limits on the House of Lords to vote down any attempt to leave it.

Overall, I felt the speech was worthwhile insofar as it gave a bit of clarity on some issues, but it was also full of contradictions on others. For example, early on the PM stated:

Parliamentary sovereignty is the basis of our constitution.

Correct, but in that case why did the UK government appeal the High Court’s decision that this was the case (i.e. that Parliamentary consent was needed to invoke Article 50)? Moreover, why if she thinks Parliament is so important did she not give today’s speech in the House of Commons?

This brings me to what the speech might imply for British science in a post-BrExit era. Here’s what I said in June 2016:

It’s all very uncertain, of course, but it seems to me that as things stand, any deal that involves free movement within Europe would be unacceptable to the powerful  UK anti-immigration lobby. This rules out a “Norway” type deal, among others, and almost certainly means there will be no access to any science EU funding schemes post 2020. Free movement is essential to the way most of these schemes operate anyway.

I’m by no means always right, but I think I was right about that. It is now clear that UK scientists will not be eligible for EU funding under the Horizon 2020 programme.  Switzerland (which is in the Single Market) wasn’t allowed to remain in Horizon 2020 without freedom of movement, and neither will the UK. If the PM does indeed trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017 then we will leave the EU by April 2019. That means that existing EU projects and funding will probably be stopped at that point, although the UK government has pledged to provide short-term replacement funding for grants already awarded. From now on it seems likely that EU teams will seek to exclude UK scientists.

This exclusion is not an unexpected outcome, but still disappointing. The PM’s speech states:

One of our great strengths as a nation is the breadth and depth of our academic and scientific communities, backed up by some of the world’s best universities. And we have a proud history of leading and supporting cutting-edge research and innovation.

So we will also welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research, and technology initiatives.

From space exploration to clean energy to medical technologies, Britain will remain at the forefront of collective endeavours to better understand, and make better, the world in which we live.

Warm words, but it’s hard to reconcile them with reality.  We used to be “leading” EU collaborative teams. In a few years we’ll  be left standing on the touchlines. The future looks very challenging for science, and especially for fundamental science, in the UK.

But the politics around EU science programmes pales into insignificance compared the toxic atmosphere of xenophobia that has engulfed much of the UK. The overt policy of the government to treat EU citizens in the UK as bargaining chips will cause untold stress, as will the Home Office’s heavy-handed approach to those who seek to confirm the permanent residence they will otherwise lose when the UK leaves the EU. Why should anyone – scientist or otherwise – stay in this country to be treated in such a way? 

All of this makes me think those scientists I know who have already left the UK for EU institutions probably made the right decision. The question is how many more will follow?

The Communications Data Bill is both Stupid and Wrong

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on June 14, 2012 by telescoper

No time for a lengthy post today, but then again I don’t think this topic merits one.

The government’s draft Communications Data Bill has now been published. The measures contained in this Bill would allow the security services to snoop at will on emails, web browsing, social network sites, internet phone calls, etc.

In other words it will give the government license to pry into personal communications between law-abiding individuals without any need for a warrant. The potential for abuse is obvious, so much so that it can only have been drafted by a government that intends to abuse it if and when it becomes law. It’s yet another deliberate erosion of our civil liberties and a further step towards a totalitarian state. Big Brother is here.

On top of all that, the proposed law is also entirely useless. All the measures proposed can be circumvented by anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of IT. Even me. It won’t catch criminals, at least not important ones, because they’ll know the (easy) ways around it. This law will simply be used by the government to spy on anyone it doesn’t like the look of.

And that could be you.