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SOMEWHERE GOOD TO LIVE

October 16, 2017

BREXIT deniers were out in Cardiff on Saturday around the Aneurin Bevan statue flying the blue Europe flags proudly in a defiant show of strength and even having them painted on their faces in a rally Monsieur Barnier would be proud of.

The Saturday before, I was in Merthyr Tydfil and the contrast between the two places – one a bustling, vibrant metropolitan political nerve-centre peopled by the privileged intellectual elite the other a flat, neglected, depressed backwater peopled by a more parochial rump – was stark and hugely revealing.

I saw two young men lying unconscious in the ramshackle bus station in Merthyr the worse for heavy duty drugs no doubt (two elderly ladies had called the police and gathered around him in the hope of reviving him) and on the bus ride up from Newport I passed through the towns of Blackwood and Tredegar and saw devastated communities with boarded-up shops and very obvious signs of decay. I now regularly see similar scenes in Newport, where gangs of totally disenfranchised youths and permanently homeless people who probably never vote wander around in drunken stupors mouthing obscenities while supping on high strength cider.

A book called The Road to Somewhere, the populist revolt and the future of politics, by David Goodhart (Hurst and Co, London) cogently chronicles this contrast between people he classifies as “Anywheres” – university educated liberals with no firm geographical footing with achieved rather than ascribed identities and largely liberal, egalitarian  mindsets – and “Somewheres” – blue collar, geographically rooted with very rudimentary education who go into trades if they are lucky and tend to have more traditional conservative authoritarian mindsets.

Wales voted to leave the European Union in the referendum in 2016 and, very significantly, the turnout of voters was nearly 72 per cent when the average for elections in Wales is nearly 54 per cent. The majority to leave was nearly 52.5 per cent to 47.5 per cent, a more decisive majority than in the referendum which brought in the Cardiff Bay Welsh Assembly government by a wafer-thin majority in 1997 when the turnout was just 50 per cent. In 2011, when a referendum was held for them to have more powers, turnout was just 35 per cent.

Nearly 65 per cent of Welsh people in 1975, however, backed c0ntinued membership of the European Union in the referendum then so there has obviously been a huge change in the way people in Wales regard European Union membership and this varies significantly from region to region – Cardiff has always been IN the European Union but Merthyr was OUT in the 2016 referendum.

Goodhart, head of the demography immigration and integration unit at the think tank Policy Exchange, tells us: “A populist politics of culture and identity has successfully challenged the traditional politics of Left and Right, creating a new division between the mobile achieved identity of the people from Anywhere and the roots-based identity of the people from Somewhere.

“This schism accounts for the Brexit vote, the election of Donald Trump, the decline of the centre-left and the rise of populism across Europe,” he claims.

This neglects to inform us that “centre-left” usually means a Blairite cosy consensus which was too costly – both in money terms with huge numbers of often unelected political cronies getting honours and plum jobs in Brussels and other places and in lives, in Iraq among other places.

I often wonder how much two members of this failed centre-left cosy consensus in Wales Lord Daffydd Ellis-Thomas and Baroness Eluned Morgan – both claiming expenses and salary to sit in the House of Lords and the Welsh Assembly – actually cost the people of Merthyr and how those people feel about the work they do as they survey the barren wastelands in the valleys (still no sign of a Circuit of Wales racetrack) which appear to have benefited precious little from EU membership.

Eluned Morgan, for instance, was first elected as Labour member of the European parliament for mid and west Wales in 1994 (a seat which has always been in Labour hands, not surprisingly) and she was re-elected in 1999 when the turnout was only 29 per cent and then again in 2005, confirming the view among cynics that a three-legged donkey with venereal disease would win in Wales if it wore a red rosette (Aneurin Bevan used to joke that Labour didn’t count the votes in Wales, they weighed them).

It is these kinds of concerns that inspired people to come out and vote in such high numbers in 2016, whether they were from somewhere or anywhere. They were bloody angry and wanted everyone to know it.

Goodhart, to his credit, seems to understand this. His knowledge of and access to demographic and social attitudes data enables him to more accurately evaluate and understand the backlash against the status quo and the new militant voice of the under represented.

More than half of British people have agreed with the statement “Britain has changed in recent times beyond recognition, it sometimes feel like a foreign country and this makes me feel uncomfortable”. Older people, the least well educated and the least affluent are most likely to assent to this.

He explains:”Anywheres dominate our culture. They tend to do well at school then usually move from home to a residential university in their late teens and on to a career in the professions that might take them to London or even abroad for a year or two. Such people have portable “achieved” identities based on career and educational success which makes them generally comfortable and confident with new places and people.

“Somewheres are more rooted and have “ascribed” identities based on group belonging and particular places, which is why they often find rapid change more unsettling. Once core group have been called the “left behind” – mainly older white working class men with little education. They have lost economically with the decline of well-paid jobs for people without qualifications and culturally too with the disappearance of a distinct working class culture and the marginalisation of their views in public conversation.”

About 60 per cent of British people live within 20 miles of where they were born, despite increases in mobility.

This raises the spectre of a mobile, privileged intellectual elite band of politicians representing a group of people who are not mobile, privileged or intellectual and who have lost faith in the view that Labour is “FOR the working man” so now see voting as futile.

Goodhart says that Anywheres have counted for too much in the past generation and he warns that “Without a more rooted, emotionally intelligent liberalism that can find the common ground between Anywheres and Somewheres, the possibility of even more unpleasant backlashes cannot completely be ruled out.”

He relies heavily on evidence from British Social Attitudes surveys, which only began in 1983, which show a sharp decline in racist, homophobic and male chauvinist attitudes, with the sharpest decline among young and highly educated people. There has been an equally sharp decline in religious observance and sharp rise in sex before marriage with gentler declines in support for the death penalty.

He goes on to examine education and training and begins by telling us that 17 per cent of people still leave school functionally illiterate and 22 per cent functionally innumerate (according to a Sheffield report) and this figure seems to have persisted for more than fifty years. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) reported in January 2016 that Britain has the lowest literary rate and the second lowest numeracy rate of the 23 richest countries.

He laments the abandonment of apprenticeships and formal trade qualifications in old fashioned vocational and non academic technical colleges in further education which is being replaced with a continual march towards academic higher education university courses to meet the demands made by a growing number of young people who regard a university education as mandatory when very often it is a senseless, misguided waste.

Tony Blair in his 1999 Labour conference even proposed a target of 50 per cent of the age cohort going into HE. In 1984 there were 70 universities, there are now 170. Fourteen per cent of the cohort went to university in 1984 and now it is 48 per cent and the total turnover of the sector rose from £7 billion in 1984 to £33 billion today. “It is hard not to conclude that the sector has expanded far beyond any useful purpose,” he concludes.

He calls for “a new settlement” with “more attractive and better supported options for those school leavers (mainly somewhere children) not taking the university path, along with a broader view of social mobility.”

“As Blair and his close advisers – almost all liberal baby boomer graduates – grew in confidence their overwhelmingly Anywhere worldview appeared to blinker them. They were unwilling or unable to respond to cultural concerns about immigration and over-rapid change and even the loss of decent employment for non-graduates seemed of little interest compared to the overwhelming focus on a narrow, university-focused idea of aspiration and social mobility.”

Key to this new settlement is less stress on London (in Wales it would be Cardiff, which has now become over indulged and over blessed) and less stress on big prestige projects with more on things like local transport bottlenecks. In short, giving people who are not Anywhere elitists a genuine voice.

“Many people who voted for Brexit have an uneasy sense that the authorities do not know how many people are here or where they are. They are right.

“After we leave the EU it should be possible to give people a stronger sense of the public sector belonging to all British citizens. Public sector employment, except in exceptional circumstances, should be restricted…..Public sector assets, above all public housing, should be reserved for citizens or those who have lived in the country for at least five years.

“Public spending cuts should not apply if they lead to higher immigration. a rootless, laissex-faire, hyper individualistic London-like Britain does not correspond to the way most people live.”

Rachel Reeves, the Labour MP has called his book “A crucial contribution to the debate about where Britain, and the centre-left, go from here.”

She and her colleagues should pay particular attention to this paragraph: “If London-centric Anywhere interests continue to dominate, we will just gradually become a more fragmented, unpleasant and disaffected country with continuing high levels of population churn and different social and ethnic groups retreating into their parallel lives, while an increasingly shrill political class celebrates the virtues of openness from within its gated communities.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ONE WAY TRAFFIC AT SURGERY?

October 16, 2017

EIGHTY-year-old grannies will be asked if they’ve ever had sex with another woman and 16-year-old boys will be quizzed about their sex lives at a time when they may be experimenting and feel ashamed, the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Times both thundered in editorials yesterday, hitting out at new plans to establish and record the sexual orientation of patients at surgeries in England. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/15/patients-in-england-to-be-quizzed-over-their-sexuality

The next census will not, I understand, be able to establish and record gender as those who are transgendered or of no gender at all find this binary concept offensive. This raises fundamental issues around what we can and cannot record for future history, not least for family history researchers like myself, who may be trying to establish if their ancestors were Harry or Harriet (a Harry who became Harriet or a Harry who became Harriet is not a concept I have yet come across in mine).

Establishing gender and establishing sexual orientation are two entirely different things.

Gender, it seems to me, is a biological fact which you can never alter (though the LGBTQ lobby will continue to try to re-educate me) but sexual orientation is a more complex, nuanced issue which is not biological nor can in any way affect procreation.

I was once involved in a mental health service-user issue around whether or not health professionals themselves should disclose their a-priori sexual orientation to be more transparent and allay fears of sexual abuse of vulnerable adults and children in their care as well as offer more choice and the possibility of a more personal relationship with their patients or clients, some of whom may specifically want to be treated by a person who has exactly the same sexual orientation as themselves.

The points I made at the time were that sexual orientation is not set in stone and unchanged throughout life for many people (changes happen but a personal record containing your orientation pigeonholes you for life) and sex abusers, of course, are usually liars “you don’t have to worry about me, I’m gay,” is a well-worn line.

The problem or problems I have with these kinds of initiatives – which usually emanate from DIM zealots – is that they never become meaningfully useful or practical in any way but descend into a farce of comical misunderstanding and crossed wires. There are also disturbing issues around who has access to such private information.

Many health service departments have traditionally offered complete anonymity and taken only basic details about the patient – this was particularly true in the 1980s when people going for AIDS tests at hospital genito-urinary medicine clinics feared that disclosure of their sexual orientation would severely affect their insurance premiums or even make it impossible for them to get insurance at all. Anything on their personal record of that nature would have disastrous co9nsequences for them with potential employers and the like.

Besides, if it is you and only you and never the health professionals themselves who disclose sexual orientation, doesn’t that mean that it is one-way traffic?

 

 

 

A MEDIA OVERKILLING SPREE

October 14, 2017

NUMEROUS women sent Ted Bundy fan mail, photographs of themselves in the nude and even proposed marriage at his trial for the multiple murders of young attractive girls in 1979 and they flirted with him inside the courtroom. http://www.refinery29.uk/what-is-hybristophilia

At the Ched Evans rape re-trial, I watched his partner sitting in court listening to evidence that no end of young girls were regularly throwing themselves at him sexually while they were together because of the magnetic allure of his fame as a Welsh international professional footballer.

I’m also aware of huge numbers of women who Dolly Parton-style “stand by” some of the most despicable creeps in history, regularly and dutifully visiting them in prison. Both of the murderous and sociopathic Kray twins found female partners to marry while in prison and at least one of Ronnie’s two wives must have known that he was as gay as the Reverend Richard Coles even if Ronnie himself didn’t.

This is a part of the female psyche that has always completely baffled me and probably always will.

Terrible Ted – who also married in prison – blamed pornography for his sick killing spree in his final TV interview with a churchman before going to the electric chair.

The warped fantasies enacted on-screen in violent porn had made him go out and kill attractive young girls, he said, gifting the American religious right – who if left to their own devices would outlaw any form of sex which didn’t involve a married man and woman in the marital bed principally for procreation – with a horny horrific beast to attack and warn against regularly and vociferously.

There, the Bible bashers proclaimed, is the evidence that a world free of pornography would be a world free of violence against women, falling hook, line and sinker for  manipulative psychopath Ted’s desperate last-minute plea for understanding and accepting every word of his neat little explanation for his blood lust (except that no porn film I’ve ever seen ends in a woman’s body being decapitated and her head taken home to put in the fridge in a VW Beetle).

I thought of this as the media storm gathers pace about Harvey Weinstein’s predatory sexual behaviour and the way he appears to be being subconsciously wrongly aligned alongside people like Bundy in the minds of readers as the media now blows everything hideously out of proportion then corals together a convenient crew of willing and able talking heads who adopt faux moral outrage (Hilary Clinton the most sickeningly nauseous) and go on predictably to voice their disquiet for society from some cosy middle-class commune in Islington peopled by privileged liberals, in this case A-list actors and actresses.

We need to remember that Weinstein leaves in his wake physically defiled and emotionally scarred young women but no mutilated dead bodies. The same can be said of Jimmy Saville, with whom he is now more consciously being aligned by Emma Thompson among others, but that comparison is wrong too as Saville was habitually preying on children and very vulnerable mentally and physically ill adults in our hospitals posing as a “carer” with the backing of high-ranking politicians and royals who seemed to be almost encouraging him.

Weinstein never pretended to be a “carer” – he didn’t need to. In his case, as with so many others, being on an elevated public platform with outward persuasive power and huge wealth combined with inward massive ego and low self-esteem nourished an addictive sense of entitlement and expectation that was regularly met and reinforced by a long line of participants not all of whom, I’m certain, were unwilling but who instead saw it as a sensible business transaction with fringe benefits (not all women “resort” to prostitution, either, some, believe it or not, enjoy it).

Like Max Clifford, Weinstein got used to it. It became almost part of the job (another day, another lonely hotel bedroom and a desperate young wannabe actress to “audition”), and never thought it would end. Again like Clifford, he thought that the dirty little secrets would stay secret as long as he held the power to silence the right people.

I’m fascinated by talented actress Thompson’s contribution. “What we need to start talking about is the crisis in masculinity, the crisis of extreme masculinity which is this sort of behaviour”, she said on Newsnight https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/oct/12/emma-thompson-harvey-weinstein-no-sex-addic.

Emma claimed that Weinstein’s behaviour is part of a systemic “public health” gender crisis that was endangering girls and women after first telling us that she spent her twenties getting old men’s tongues out of her throat (didn’t we all, dear?), leaving us in absolutely no doubt that she was an attractive young woman herself.

I struggle sometimes to understand what some members of the acting profession mean when they are not reading aloud a writer’s lines and wonder if some of them know themselves as they seem so deeply distant and protected from the real world with their agents and underlings.

Mixing Weinstein up with Saville is similar to mixing him up with Ted Bundy.

Weinstein was a feared egotistical bully who abused his position, Saville was a feared egotistical bully who sexually abused children and hospital patients, and Bundy was a feared egotistical bully who killed and killed and killed again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HILARY’S HYPOCRISY OVER HARVEY

October 13, 2017

HILARY Clinton now tells us she is “shocked and appalled” by Harvey Weinstein’s predatory sexual behaviour towards vulnerable young women. http://variety.com/2017/politics/news/hillary-clinton-harvey-weinstein-statement-twitter-1202585861/

Now, is this the Hilary Clinton who was married to and stood by Bill Clinton, the serial adulterer who couldn’t keep his hands in his pockets and out of young women’s pants. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Clinton_sexual_misconduct_allegations

“Shocked and appalled”, really?

Why didn’t she say that long ago when Mr Weinstein was preying on young women while financially oiling her campaign to be president and donating money to the Democratic Party?

Perhaps she was too shocked and appalled to say anything then. Perhaps.

Trump told us that if he was president she would be in jail. I wait for that with bated breath.

 

ARE YOU CLONESOME TONIGHT?

September 24, 2017

IT WAS a bus to Bridgend not a VIP flight to Vegas, the compact Grand Pavillion in Porthcawl not the huge cabaret room at the International Hotel, the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra not the Joe Guercio Orchestra and Gordon Davis not Elvis Presley himself but it left Elvis fans like me all shook up with a burning love.

My weekend at the Porthcawl Elvis Festival – the world’s biggest convention for Elvis tribute acts – ended with an impressive set from Gordon Davis (http://www.gordondavis.co.uk/),  one of the best in the business with the Graceland backing band, girl harmony duo Mills and Boon and the Cardiff orchestra complete with a conductor. http://www.cardiffphilharmonic.com/

 

IN THE GHETTO? NO, IT’S PORTHCAWL SEAFRONT

 

LET ME BE YOUR TEDDY HAIR BEARS OR IS SHE A HARD-HEADED WOMAN?

 

 

DON’T BE CRUEL: THE CHIPS ARE DOWN FOR THE DONKEYS ON PORTHCAWL BEACH.

 

HEARTBREAK HOTEL: SHOPS IN THE TOWN DRESS TO IMPRESS.

 

IT’S NOW OR NEVER: TO SEE GARY GRACELAND AT THE HARBOUR LIGHTS.

 

HOUND DOG: AN ANIMAL CHARITY STALL OUTSIDE THE GRAND PAVILLION.

 

DIMWITS SHOULD SEE THIS PLAY

September 14, 2017

AFTER the Paul Hollywood Nazi uniform storm and Jack Dee hitting out about DIM zealots policing comedy so much now that he is sick and tired of being told what he can NOT say, it was good to see that in the depths of the slaughter, grime and rat-infested British trenches occupied by privates and their officers in World War One these sensibilities didn’t really exist – when the chips are down you have to laugh or cry/die.

Nick Newman and Ian Hislop’s play the Wipers Times is at the New Theatre, Cardiff, http://www.wiperstimesplay.co.uk/until the end of the week and on tour throughout the UK after that. It tells the story of how some spiky, spunky British troops had to fight two enemies – the Germans on the other side of no man’s land and the London-based military top brass, who understood that their joyous satire and subversive poetry and prose brought the weary warriors satisfaction and lifted morale but also carried explosive danger and offence by lampooning and lambasting (though the lambasting was very gentle in comparison to today’s tabloid terrors or internet warriors) those in power – a fantastic British tradition which Hislop’s Private Eye now very proudly continues.

The play is more of a string of comic sketches than anything else with some cheerful song and dance routines and a sharp acerbic script which concentrates on the humour rather than the blackness in the black humour necessary to survive in the senseless slaughter.

It is a wonderfully optimistic and zesty piece about how the British grasp irony better than their enemies and use it in dire circumstances to defuse tension and depression. The DIM zealots could learn a lot by seeing this.

The play is based on the true story of how officers and men came across a printing press in Belgium at the front and succeeded in publishing a satirical magazine which won favour among the troops, who looked forward to reading it on a regular basis.

It relieved boredom, gave them a useful outlet, brought upper and lower classes together on a level footing, encouraged creativity, and crucially, diverted attention from the gruesome horrors of war.

While the Germans sang songs of ire and hate against the English, our boys and men took to their typewriters to churn out some pearls of wit, wisdom and often poignant and tragic accounts of deep grief and loss and witty amateur wordsmiths eagerly and jubilantly sub-edited and laid out pages as the bombs and bullets flew in all directions nearby.

The cast of roughly eight men and two women interact well on stage in a carefully choreographed, action-packed two or so hours with an interval and it ends with a joyous routine involving them all.

This play highlighted how important the fact that it was a paper product printed by hand on an old-fashioned press was – perhaps paying tribute to Private Eye itself as it is one of the few print publications with a growing circulation in today’s mobile phone flickering screen world. In a week when I read that two former daily newspapers in Gloucestershire are now going weekly because the internet has hit printed products so badly, it seemed hugely significant.

“This war will be over by Christmas – but we don’t know which Christmas” was one of the many dry, sardonic jokes in this play. Perhaps the same can be said about print magazines and papers.

 

 

EXPENSIVE FULL ENGLISH BREXIT

September 13, 2017

THE cost of leaving the EU without a deal in a chaotic Brexit would be a “political mess, a legal morass and economic disaster”, UK researchers warn.

The UK in a Changing Europe have published a pamphlet called Cost of No Deal to outline the risks of storming out of negotiations.

They identify at least four broad scenarios:

SMOOTH BREXIT. All goes according to plan and we manage to have both the Article 50 and trade deal signed, sealed and delivered by March 2019 and transition is smooth.

TRANSITIONAL BREXIT. The Article 50 deal is agreed and both sides agree on transitional arrangements to bridge the gap to a full deal.

CLIFF-EDGE BREXIT. The Article 50 deal is fixed but trade negotiations stall so there is nothing to transition to so the UK becomes a “third country” with no special relationship with the EU.

CHAOTIC BREXIT. No Article 50 deal and no extension. Talks fail over citizens’ rights, the role of the European courts, money or some other issue. There are two ways in which this might come about:

1, PREMATURE BREXIT where talks break down acrimoniously and the UK decides unilaterally to stop paying EU contributions and end supremacy of EU law in the UK with immediate effect.

2, TIMED-OUT BREXIT where the talks don’t completely break down but no agreement is reached within the two year period and there is no extension.

“If the Article 50 process comes to an end because of a unilateral British decision to remove itself from negotiations,” they warn, “the political recriminations would be even more heated.”

“In both cases, the incentive for the government to blame “Brussels” for it would be extremely strong. This might extend to blaming opponents in the UK (“Remoaners” or “Soft Brexiteers”) for weakening the UK’s position.”

They conclude: “No deal doesn’t mean the country would come to a stop. But even under relatively benign conditions and with time to prepare, the impacts would be widespread, damaging and pervasive.

“It is not possible to ex ante to quantify the economic impacts, but it is reasonably clear that they will be comparable to some of the worst-case scenarios presented before the referendum.”

The UK in a Changing Europe is funded by the Economic and Social research Council and is based at King’s College London.