Sunday, 21 January 2018

Brexitwatch; will incuriosity kill democracy?

When social workers make errors that result in harm being caused to a child, MPs often lambast them for being ‘incurious’. They failed to ask enough questions.

What then are we to make of MPs themselves? Last week a proposal was put that the government should have to publish studies on the impact of Brexit on the UK before Parliament takes a final decision on how and whether we leave the EU.

Incredibly, 320 MPs, yes 320, voted against this, and it was narrowly defeated. In other words, 320 MPs want to be sure they do NOT know the effect Brexit will have on their constituents and the rest of the people of the UK before they push it through.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow last week rightly warned that Brexit was endangering democracy in the UK. Unfortunately, among its biggest enemies are hundreds of MPs.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

'Secrets of the Centenarians': two more reviews

'Secrets of the Centenarians: What is it like to live for a century, and which of us will survive to find out?' Top of this reviews list in the Toronto Star.

And here is a review from the UK's Methodist Recorder.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The artist David Bomberg and Britain's biggest ever explosion

Until February 4, the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester is hosting an exhibition by the British Artist David Bomberg (above is one of his pictures - Sappers at Work). In both world wars, Bomberg had a go at being an official war artist, but most of his pictures were rejected.

But the exhibition does feature two he painted of a huge Second World War bomb store in a former gypsum mine at Fauld in Staffordshire between Uttoxeter and Burton upon Trent. Nearly 15,000 tons of bombs were held there.

On the morning of 27 November 1944, the biggest man-made explosion ever in Britain ripped through the store, killing 70 people. A farm above the site just disappeared, nearly every house in the nearby village of Hanbury was damaged, while at Burton 6 miles away, 140 buildings suffered.

The Germans claimed they had hit it with one of the new V weapons, and there were also suspicions that perhaps it was sabotage by Italian prisoners of war or the IRA. But a secret inquiry concluded that shoddy work practices were to blame. It seemed that chipping away at a defective bomb with a brass chisel had caused an initial blast which was then followed by a second in which nearly 4,000 bombs exploded.

For more, see A Disastrous History of Britain.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Brexitwatch: we don't want a 'second referendum'....

In the EU referendum of 2016 one choice was a reality: remaining a member of the EU (though constantly misrepresented by those who control 80 per cent of the national press by readership). The other – leaving or Brexit – was a fantasy – a great empty screen onto which everyone could project their fantasy: an extra £350m a week for the NHS, less immigration, no immigration, keeping all the advantages of EU membership without having to obey any of the rules, signing up trade deals with major countries all over the world in the blink of an eye, etc, etc.

No wonder many people were frustrated by a debate from which reality seemed generally absent.

If we were to have a referendum on any agreement Theresa May manages to negotiate with the EU, or on her failure to reach one, that would be a very different matter. Yes, the extreme right wing press would continue its distortion, but it would be a choice between two realities – accepting the Leave terms negotiated or withdrawing Article 50 and staying in the EU.

It would be a ‘second referendum’ only if the Brexit deal fulfils all the promises made by the Leave campaign, and even the Brexiters themselves are now admitting this will not happen. We should stop talking about a ‘second referendum’. We haven't had the first one yet, unless you count the one that produced a two-to-one majority for staying in the EU.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

London: Bethnal Green tube disaster memorial unveiled

A memorial has been unveiled to the 173 people who died in one of London’s deadliest single disasters of World War Two.   

On March 3, 1943, the BBC reported a 300 bomber raid on Berlin, and Londoners braced themselves for retaliation.   As sirens sounded, people headed for the shelters.   Then 500 yards from Bethnal Green tube station (pictured), a new battery of anti-aircraft rocket launchers opened fire.
There was a rush for the steps leading down to the station, and close to the bottom, a woman stumbled.     Others fell over her, and a deadly crush began.    Altogether 173 people were suffocated or crushed to death, including 62 children, and another 100 people were injured.    In fact, no bombs fell on the East End of London that night.
A survivor who was 8 at the time, said at today's ceremony that it was 'fantastic' to see the memorial finally unveiled 73 years after the event. He spent nine months in hospital after suffering injuries to his spleen, legs, neck and arms.

For more, see London's Disasters from Boudicca to the Banking Crisis. 

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Brexitwatch: write to your MP NOW. Support amendment 124 TOMORROW and keep us in the Single Market

Staying in the Single Market is the 'will of the people'. It is also the least damaging form of Brexit, and it solves the otherwise insoluble Irish border problem. This is what I have written to my MP.
Dear Sir Keir,
I know from your previous emails that Labour believes it has to support the Tories on Brexit, however damaging it may be, because it is the 'will of the people'. As you know from my previous emails, I disagree.
However, if you want policy to be dictated by the 'will of the people' that also means we must stay in the Single Market. Every Tory MP elected in 2015 stood on this promise and throughout the Referendum campaign, Leave campaginers such as Boris Johnson, Owen Paterson, Daniel Hannan, Arron Banks, even Nigel Farage, were falling over themselves to assure us we would stay in it.
With such a narrow majority for leaving the EU, it is plain there was a majority for staying in the Single Market. Happily that is also the kind of Brexit that will do least damage and it will solve the otherwise insoluble Irish border problem.
I know that amendment 124 is not a Labour amendment, but on this occasion, I trust you and your Labour colleagues will put country before party and vote for this amendment.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Brexitwatch. Make sure MPs get a MEANINGFUL vote on any Brexit deal

Theresa May's government still wants to present Parliament with only a take-it or leave-it vote on any Brexit deal with the EU. MPs will have to accept the deal she has made however bad it may be, or crash out with no deal - almost universally recognised to be a disaster.

Tomorrow MPs who support Parliamentary sovereignty rather than government dictatorship will try to pass Amendment 7 to the EU Withdrawal Bill to ensure MPs get a meaningful vote. Even Brexiters are supposed to support Parliamentary sovereignty - indeed they told us that is why we are leaving the EU.

Write to your MP and demand they support Amendment 7. This is what I have sent to mine, Sir Keir Starmer:

Dear Sir Keir,
I am bitterly disappointed that Labour is still in coalition with the Tories on Brexit. I had hoped common sense would have prevailed by now. 
However, if you are still determined to block a referendum on the final deal (or lack of one) with the EU, I trust you will at least ensure that MPs get a meaningful vote.
It is crucial, therefore, that you and ALL Labour MPs back Amendment 7 to the EU Withdrawal Bill. History will not forgive those MPs who fail their country in this dark hour.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington