Of Ill Health, Tory Lies, Good Men and Women, and Democracy on a Knife Edge

I probably brought it upon myself by saying to Octavia that since I switched from being vegetarian to vegan I seem to shake of colds very quickly. The next evening, Monday, I was just taking my seat in the National Theatre for a performance of Brian Friel’s Translations (excellent btw) when I sneezed a couple of times. By the time I reached home I had a sore throat and a runny nose. The following day I didn’t feel great, but I confidently expected to be well by Wednesday, so it was a bit of shock when I woke to find my legs were like jelly.
That was a week ago. Since then I have got through eight boxes of paper hankies, quantities of paracetamol and half a bottle of Benylin, several boxes of throat sweets.
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Democracy is Fragile and Needs Your Help

It’s an odd thing, but if you make up qualifications, cheat in exams, lie under oath in court, fiddle the evidence to suit your premise in a science experiment, take drugs to enhance your sporting prowess, when the truth is discovered, you will quickly be stripped of your qualifications, awards and medals, your professional reputation will be in tatters and you will be held up as an example of how cheating and lying does not pay.
I say it’s an odd thing, because the same rules do not seem to apply to our unesteemed Prime Minister, who I am starting to suspect is a pathological liar, by which I mean he really can’t help himself. To Johnson, lies seem to be so much more attractive than truth. He cheats too, wearing a discreet ear piece in a debate so he could be fed li(n)es, rather than rely, as Corbyn had to, on wit and memory. This last deception has had scant coverage in the news. Many of our newspaper editors almost equalling Johnson by writing about hm as though he is a political colossus.
He is also aided by the BBC news team which sees to have decided that a global reputation for fair reporting, professionalism and impartiality can be dispensed with. There are too many instances to list here, but a few stand out ones are the wreath laying ceremony at the cenotaph in Whitehall on Remembrance Sunday. The leaders of the political parties lined up holding their red wreaths. Johnson looked as though he had slept in his clothes after a thick night and had forgotten to brush his hair. He was seen stepping forward at the wrong time,laying the wreath upside down, shambling. The other party leaders performed the wreath laying with respect and reverence. The BBC radio news reported the leaders as bowing their heads, apart from Corbyn who inclined his head. Now bowing your head and inclining your head are the same thing, but a Twitter storm was unleashed accusing Corbyn of lack of respect and patriotism. Corbyn, having associated with some pretty unsavoury characters down the years, gets these accusations all the time. Bizarrely, Johnson, who is pally with an equal number of unsavoury characters now, does not. Anyway, the next day BBC news broadcast footage of Remembrance Sunday and included Johnson neatly dressed, hair brushed, laying a green wreath. That is footage from three years ago, which when it was spotted by viewers, was claimed by the BBC when it later apologised, to have been in the production room, and a mistake. Hmm. Maybe. Continue reading

So Mr Johnson, What did Mr Putin do for you in 2016?

We know social media, and in particular Facebook, was responsible for targeting voters in the 2016 referendum with false information. We know that the Leave Campaign has been found guilty of breaking the rules, though mysteriously this is still often referred to as an allegation, and was even denied by Fiona Bruce on Question Time last week.
For those of you still unconvinced, you can read about it here, not as reported in a newspaper with a particular view, but the Electoral Commission’s actual report. Continue reading

Liars, Charlatans, and Democracy in Peril

The last few days in Parliament have seen some extraordinary scenes. Boris Johnson, a man who seems determined to drag the office of Prime Minister through the mire, has repeatedly used disrespectful and inflammatory language. He has dismissed the fears of MPs of the death threats, rape threats, arson threats they and their families have received. “Humbug”was Johnson’s response, apparently seeing this as some kind of joke. He even referenced Jo Cox, the MP murdered by a member of the Alt Right who shouted “Britain first” as he killed her, and said she would have wanted us to ‘get on’ with Brexit. BS.

Others have suggested riots if we do not leave the EU on 31st October. Suggested these riots almost as a threat, almost as a call for riots.

I have been on a number of pro EU marches since June 2016. They have been characterised by good humour, politeness, warmth. They had a family feel. There have been dogs and children, wheelchair users. They have made me proud to be British at a time when my country, which I love, has been tearing itself apart.

I stood at Trafalgar Square over a year ago and, as I waited for the friends I was hoping to join, struck up a conversation with a a French family visiting London. They were warm in their admiration of the way this huge crowd was behaving. I have been with Americans who have taken photograph after photograph, and then decided they wanted to join in, be part of this. These marches, these demonstrations, have fostered such good feeling, such warmth from foreigners who had wondered whether London was a safe place to visit in these febrile times.

There have been no arrests. At the largest march over one million people of all ages walked together, calm, courteous even when abuse was shouted by the odd Brexiteer who had turned up to jeer. Some people tried to engage with the Brexiteers, to speak to them. They were repaid with swearing and threats, not dialogue.

I have only witnessed a Brexiteer demonstration by accident. There were only a small number of demonstrators, but they were loudly aggressive, threatening. One wore a Donald trump mask while others sang “We love you Donald, oh yes we do.” As a Remainer, I would not have liked to challenge them. The outcome would almost certainly have been violent. More than one person has said that Brexit has become like a religion, a particularly fundamentalist religion, where questioning and discussion, let alone disagreement, is treated as blasphemy and quickly suppressed, the questioner demonised.

This is a dangerous development. Democracy is a delicate creature. Look at history and see how many times people who thought they were secure were forced to flee their homes with nothing when anti-democratic, often populist, movements silenced debate and demanded adherence to a particular ideology; when the people comes to mean only people who belong to a certain group. Continue reading

Mind Our Language

They say if you learn one thing from a talk, or a visit to a museum or gallery, it is time, sometimes money, well spent. On those grounds the lectures and seminars on sociolinguistics I attended as part of my first degree represent a good investment.

I recall studying newspaper articles, noting how descriptors were used to steer the reader to  particular view, to mould our responses. It was quite shocking, and has made me a more critical reader, more of a fact checker. When I started flat hunting in the days before the internet I would collect details of properties for sale from estate agents. Apart from those being sold by Roy Brooks who believed in calling a spade a spade – “in frankly appalling condition throughout” is one phrase I remember – these invariably one bedroomed properties were described as spacious. Spacious for whom, I’d wonder. Lilliputians perhaps. I fast came to the conclusion that the best way to read these bits of puff was to block out the adjectives, erase the ‘spacious’s, the ‘stunning’s, the ‘desirable’s and the ‘sought after location’s.

Once, listening to the news on the BBC in the 80s, my antennae twitched when I heard a dictator, renowned for disregarding human rights and with a pronounced penchant for imprisoning opponents without trial and then torturing them, had been ‘forced’ to execute some ‘rebels’. Sure enough, a short time later our government quietly softened its stance towards this man, his barbarities would be ignored in the name of trade. Continue reading

Of the Supervet, Trump, BoJo and the Brexiteers

It’s the usual story: I should like to be in bed, but just as I started to make tracks, MasterB, who has been feather hunting most of the evening while I tried to watch The Supervet, Noel Fitzpatrick, without crying (fail), decided it was time for him to go outside. Then we stood on the pavement for an eternity until he could be persuaded into the safety of the garden. There I left him and came indoors.

After The Supervet, Channel 4 had a programme I could not bring myself to watch about what it might be like if Donald Trump were to win the US presidential elections. Truly I can believe that western civilisation is on the rocks and terminal decline when a man such as Trump can be a serious (sic) contender for this job. Ditto that for BoJo as UK Prime Minister. Politics trivialised.

I did see an excerpt where Trump, or ‘the floss-haired one’, as he was described in the Guardian TV guide, declared that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose votes. Can you still run for President of the US when standing trial for murder? Or would his argument – and I use the term as loosely as he does – be that he doesn’t know the bullet killed the person, maybe they were dead before he fired. He has defended his aide who has been charged with bruising a journalist who wanted to ask Trump a question – imagine going into journalism and finding yourself having to do that; no wonder they call it Grub Street – by saying he doesn’t know if the bruises were there before, and that surely if the journalist’s arm had been gripped so hard as to cause a bruise he’d have expected her to cry out.

When I broke my wrist I didn’t cry out. Did that mean it was a fracture I had overlooked, and been carelessly walking and riding around with, but only admitted to once I had done my brief Superwoman flight and crash landed on the road? Continue reading

The Health of the People – the Highest Law?

I missed the article in the Guardian by Harry Leslie Smith, but fortunately these letters in yesterday’s edition led me back to it.

Maybe you missed it too. If so, I urge you to read both the article and the letters.

Yesterday, a few of us were discussing how regeneration is affecting our neighbourhood; how untruths, half truths and downright lies, damned some buildings to demolition. It reminded me of the behaviour of a certain London council in the 80s. Residents, all of them council tenants with secure tenancies, were told that there was danger from asbestos, and evacuated from the homes. People were rehoused in housing stock that was often inferior, in different parts of the borough. They thought this was a temporary measure before they could move back to their homes. Continue reading