Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Brexitwatch: a meaningful vote for MPs - my letter to Sir Keir Starmer

Thanks to the courage of the House of Lords, this week MPs get another chance, which arguably they do not deserve, to ensure they get a meaningful vote on any Brexit deal. 

Last week no fewer than 324 MPs voted that they should NOT be allowed a meaningful vote. What, you might ask, are such people doing in Parliament? Even more shocking, five of them were Labour members who sided with Theresa May to deny MPs a vote. This should not be allowed to happen again. This week's vote may represent the last chance to give MPs a meaningful say on our future.

So if you agree with me, you need to write to your MP to urge them to back the Lords' amendment. I am in a rather special position as my MP is Labour Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer. This is the email I have sent him:

Dear Sir Keir, 
I was astonished and mortified to see five Labour MPs vote with Theresa May to deny Parliament a meaningful vote on any Brexit terms last week.
I cannot understand how ANY MP from any party could oppose this measure, and to see Labour members doing so was beyond belief.
As you yourself admitted, there are NO benefits to Brexit. It is vital, therefore, that Parliament gets a final say on any terms. I trust that any Labour MP who votes with Theresa May this time will be stripped of the Labour whip, and expelled from the party. I trust that this will be explained to them in no uncertain terms before the vote.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Brexitwatch: write to true patriot Dominic Grieve

Hundreds of MPs seem determined to vote themselves out of a job by demanding they be given no say on Brexit.

So well done Dominic Grieve! The Conservative former Attorney General has a rather better grasp of the law than the many foolish MPs who inhabit Westminster these days. Last week he did his best to ensure Theresa May could not bypass Parliament, but she stabbed him in the back. This week Mr Grieve and his colleagues get another chance. Why not encourage him, by emailing him and showing your support at dominic.grieve.mp@parliament.uk?

This is the second of my emails to him:

Dear Mr Grieve, sorry, but not surprised, the Prime Minister double-crossed you last week. The fact is that you can't believe a word she says on Brexit (look at this nonsense this weekend about pretending it will release more money for the NHS). Unfortunately, she is completely in the pocket of the Brexit extremists, who just want to fulfil their anti-EU fantasies and couldn't care less about what it does to the country.
This time, stand firm and don't accept anything that isn't crystal clear and in writing.
And don't give in to any blackmail. The 5 year parliament rule means that any threat that by refusing to have Parliament sidelined you'll bring down the government is also hogwash.
Thanks for all your efforts, and good luck,
John Withington

Monday, 11 June 2018

Brexitwatch; get your MP to support the Lords' amendments

Tomorrow (June 12) the EU Withdrawal Bill returns to the House of Commons. The Lords suggested a number of wise amendments, all of which would improve the bill. MPs should support all of them. This is what I have written to mine, who happens to be Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer.
Dear Sir Keir,
This may be the last chance MPs have to make some amends for their so far lamentable spinelessness over Brexit and the damage it will do to our country.
All of the House of Lords' amendments will improve the bill, and I trust Labour will support them all.
The following I consider to be of especial importance:
  • Amendments 1 & 2 allowing the UK to continue in a customs union with the EU. Without this, Labour's 'Brexit for jobs' cannot be achieved.
  • Amendment 19 allowing for a proper and meaningful vote in Parliament on any Brexit deal. If MPs reject this, it will be another disgraceful abrogation of their duty, and I fear parliamentary democracy may never recover.
  • Amendment 51 allowing the UK to participate in the EEA - again essential for Labour's 'Brexit for jobs'.
I trust Labour MPs will be whipped to support all amendments and that they will be warned that any who abstain or vote with the most reactionary Tory government in my lifetime will face the severest disciplinary action.
Come on Labour. This time, do the right thing. Put the UK first.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Sunday, 10 June 2018

How to live to 100: my television interview with Maxine Mawhinney

I really enjoyed being interviewed by former BBC News presenter Maxine Mawhinney for her new series, 'The Moment', about my new book, Secrets of the Centenarians.

We talked about what it's like to live to 100, why 100 year olds are the fastest growing section of the population, why there are about 5 centenarian women for every one man, which of us are most likely to survive to our 100th birthday, and whether there are any ways of making sure you get there. 

Do have a look. Here's the link:


Monday, 28 May 2018

Brexitwatch: A promise from Labour's Brexit spokesperson

On April 20, I blogged about Labour's 'shadow international trade secretary' Barry Gardiner who had been rubbishing Labour's 6 tests, which are supposed to be the basis for how it will take a decision on any Brexit deal, and dismissing fears about the threat Brexit poses to the Good Friday Agreement. 

I posted the email I had sent to Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer, who happens to be my MP. I have now received a reply from him:

I’m very sorry for the slow reply - my apologies
I was quick to criticise Barry G’s comments, which he has retracted
I agree with you about N Ireland and the six tests 
To reiterate: if the PM’s final A50 deal fails the six tests, Labour will vote against
Best wishes

The promise to oppose the deal is very significant. From what we have seen so far, it seems likely that any deal might fail all six tests, but two in particular would seem impossible to pass:

1 That the deal should deliver 'the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the single market and customs union'

2. That it must 'deliver for all regions and nations of the UK'

I felt I needed to clarify Sir Keir's promise a little, so I have sent him this reply:

Dear Sir Keir,
Thank you for this. Just to be clear. I take it to mean that if the final deal fails ANY of the six tests, then Labour will vote against it?

Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Irish Potato Famine

Part of my book Disaster! A History of Earthquakes, Floods, Plagues, and other Catastrophes (Skyhorse) covering the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, is quoted on this ‘History of Donegal’ blog - https://historyofdonegal.com/

The failure of the potato crop through a microscopic fungus brought dreadful suffering, and the response of the British government, which then ruled all of Ireland, was grotesquely inadequate. The ruling political party were free market fanatics, and were afraid that if the authorities handed out food to the starving, it would create a dangerous distortion.

In the end, theories were modified in the face of facts, and by mid-1847, soup kitchens were providing food for more than 3 million people a day. But by the time the blight was over, one and a half million people had perished from starvation and disease.

Another million had fled the country, but many never reached their destination. Of 100,000 sailing to the US in 1847, a fifth died from disease or malnutrition. Those who arrived often faced hostility and discrimination, but a ‘greater Ireland across the sea’ was created by the likes of John F. Kennedy’s great-grandfather who fled County Wexford in 1849.


Friday, 25 May 2018

Brexitwatch: BBC pro-Brexit bias - the BBC's response to my complaint

In my post of March 30, I put up a complaint I had sent to the BBC about pro-Brexit bias.

Below is the BBC's reply:

Dear Mr Withington
Thank you for contacting us in relation to the BBC Radio 4 broadcast of 'Today' on 30 March.
I understand you have concerns of pro-Brexit bias relating to a number of segments during this broadcast. I have reviewed these sections of the programme for you.
I understand that you feel that Nick Robinson's piece in the lead up to 8:00am contained inaccuracies and implied those who wished to remain were trying to undermine the EU Referendum. It is important to note that this was part of a day of programming on 29 March which saw Radio 4, with one year to go until the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union, broadcast a number of specialist programmes under the theme UK at the crossroads.
Nick Robinson had provided an analytical piece, exploring the question of 'What happens if the government fails at the Westminster Parliamentary hurdle.' In this report he discusses that "there is; as of yet, no agreement amongst Remainers on how to maximise their chance of beating the government, some favour a vote on a customs union, others on a second referendum or as they prefer to present it, a people's vote on a deal the Prime Minister does".
All staff; including Nick Robinson, working for the BBC, though clearly entitled to hold personal opinions and beliefs, are acutely aware that their views should never in any way influence their work for the BBC, nor should they be apparent to our audience. It is important to recognise however that a fundamental part of the role of our correspondents is to offer analysis, using their experience and knowledge, but this is not indicative of bias.
I also note your concerns relating to an interview which took place later that morning with Dr Liam Fox. On this date a range of contributors including Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Tony Blair were invited on to the programme to discuss numerous topics relating to Brexit over the next 365 days.
During this interview Mishal asks Liam Fox a range on questions looking ahead to 30th March 2019 and what trade will look like for the UK and also explores how this will impact citizens living in the UK. They also explore the subject of a deal between the UK and the EU and what would happen if Parliament failed to vote in it's favour. As the interview wraps up Mishal questions Liam Fox on the subject of employment in places such as Nifco and whether the UK could compete outside of the EU.
In a fast-flowing interview situation, it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest, we're sorry this spoiled the interview for you. We always seek to ensure that the interviewer's particular question is answered by the guest first and foremost.
The key point here is that we aim to cover the ongoing Brexit negotiations with due impartiality. This means we carry a wide range of views about the European Union from across the political spectrum on our output. We regularly hear from those who are in favour of leaving the EU and those who wished to remain. As with any story we cover, the BBC does not have an opinion on the European Union, or on the UK’s position within it. Instead we try to explain the different and sometimes complex issues affecting our audience during Brexit. Our aim is to give them the information they need in order to follow the process clearly.
Due impartiality isn’t necessarily always achieved in one single report or programme, so we would ask that you take account of how we cover a topic over time.
We do value your feedback about this. All complaints are sent to senior management and the team at Today and I’ve included your points in our overnight report. These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC and ensures that your concerns have been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future content.
Thank you once again for getting in touch.
Kind regards
Donal Rainey
BBC Complaints Team

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Brexitwatch: the bent referendum. A letter to the Prime Minister

Most MPs know Brexit will damage the UK. They have been proceeding with it only because of the referendum result. 

But we now know the referendum was won illegally by the Leave side, who broke spending rules. So why isn't Brexit being stopped? That is the question I have asked the Prime Minister:

'In view of the revelation that the Leave campaign won the Brexit referendum illegally, I am surprised you have not already been in touch with the EU to withdraw Article 50.
When do you plan to take this action?'

Monday, 14 May 2018

Brexitwatch; the referendum was won illegally. What is your MP going to do about it?

So the referendum WAS bent. The Leave campaign spent more than was allowed, and have been fined £70,000 by the Electoral Commission. The police are now also investigating.

So the result is null and void, of course? With that surrealism that has become typical of Brexit, the first reaction of MPs seems to be to ignore this inconvenient fact, and hope it will go away or that no one will notice.

This is not good enough. All the evidence suggests leaving the EU will damage our country, and to continue with it because of an illegally procured referendum result is inexcusable. The only justification advanced for Brexit these days is the so-called 'will of the people' argument (see my post of of 15 December 2016) and that has now been blown out of the water.

Theresa May should by now have withdrawn Article 50. As she has not, MPs should be forcing her to. This is what I have written to mine (Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer):

Dear Sir Keir,
I saw you on television yesterday admitting that there are no benefits to Brexit. I have written to you on a number of occasions urging you and the Labour Party to oppose this act of national self-harm. You have always maintained we have to do it (e.g, in your email of Jan 3, 2017) because people had voted for it.
As you know I have always rejected this, as Parliament itself ruled the referendum was 'consultative' only and not binding on MPs. Now, however, we also know that the referendum was ILLEGALLY won by the Leave side.
So what is Labour going to do about it?
I look forward to hearing from you,
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Monday, 7 May 2018

Brexitwatch: Labour too cowardly to have an opinion. My letter to the party's Brexit spokesperson

A crucial vote comes up in the House of Lords tomorrow, with a decision on an amendment that would require the UK to Remain in the EEA, meaning we would stay in the EU's Single Market and Customs Union.

And Labour's view? Incredibly Jeremy Corbyn has ordered Labour peers to have no view - to abstain - just as they did over an amendment to guarantee us all a vote on any deal agreed with the EU. The result was a win for Theresa May's extreme right wing Tories and their extreme Brexit.

My MP is Labour's Brexit spokesperson. This is what I have written to him. Do you know a Labour lord to whom you could write something similar?

Dear Sir Keir,
'Staying in the EEA could preserve our rights to live and work in 27 countries, stop our economy being destroyed, preserve peace in Ireland, and, of course, it wasn't mentioned on the referendum ballot paper, so any 'will of the people' arguments are irrelevant. What does Labour think?'
'Er, we don't really have a view.'
How on earth do you expect to be taken seriously as a potential governing party when you are too cowardly or too clueless to take a position on the biggest questions facing our country?
I was horrified to see Labour sabotaging the chance of a referendum on any Brexit terms by ordering its members in the House of Lords to abstain, so ensuring the most reactionary Tory government I have ever seen would get its way. Now you are planning to do the same on the EEA vote. 
This is inexcusable. I urge you at this late date to change your mind and just for once, put country before party. Every Labour lord should be urged to support the amendment.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Sunday, 6 May 2018

The Brexit Tax: how much are you prepared to pay?

Nobody much now believes the biggest lie in British politics: that leaving the EU would produce an extra £350 million a week for the NHS. It is now clear that ANY arrangement that follows us leaving the EU will make us worse off - apart from a few of the hyper-rich non-elite who may be helped to avoid tax.

An assessment that Theresa May tried to keep secret shows that if we get a Norway-type deal of leaving the EU, but staying in the Single Market (the kind Nigel Farage used to favour but now considers insufficiently extreme) we will all be 2 per cent worse off. 

With a Canada-type free trade deal, we will be 5 per cent worse off, and if we go for the no-deal scenario favoured by the Brexit fanatics, which Theresa May is keen not to rule out, we will all be 8 per cent worse off. So instead of being paid, say, £30,000, you will get £27,600.

But it gets worse. Because we will all have less money, the government will get less from taxes to pay for the NHS and other public services. By 2033, the Norway model will leave a Black Hole in the public finances of £20bn or about £300 for every man, woman and child in the country; the shortfall for a Canada arrangement will be £55bn, or about £850 for every man, woman, and child in the country, while having no deal would cost about £80bn, or £1,230 for each of us.

Interestingly surveys on how much people are to pay for Brexit usually come up with the answer: £0.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Brexitwatch: Letters to Lords and Ladies - a referendum on any Brexit terms

The House of Lords has already done important work in trying to stop Theresa May from dragging us out of the EU Customs Union, with all the disastrous effects that would have on our economy and on peace in Ireland.

Over the next few days, the Lords will consider another amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill requiring the government to hold a referendum on any terms agreed for leaving the EU, with an option to stay if the leaving terms are not good enough.

This is the letter I have sent to three members of the Lords - Baronesses Browning and Warsi, and Lord Bridges. If you wish to write to members you think are persuadable, please feel free to borrow from it or adapt it.

I am writing to you to ask you to support the amendment “Parliamentary motions on a referendum” to the EU Withdrawal Bill so that there will be a public vote on any final Brexit agreement reached with the EU.
This is essential because it is plain that the Brexit people were persuaded to vote for in June 2016 cannot be delivered. We were promised that we would be able to stay in the Single Market, that we would be able to leave the EU but keep all the benefits of membership, that leaving would have no cost for our economy, that it would be child's play to reach new trade deals to replace those with 70 countries that we tear up when we leave the EU, that the UK government would save money, etc etc. It is plain now that none of this will happen.
It is also essential because the referendum electorate was gerrymandered to exclude huge numbers of people likely to vote Remain - many UK citizens living in the EU, 16-18 year olds, EU citizens with long residence in the UK. In spite of that, and a rabidly anti-EU press, the Leave campaign was able to win by only a tiny majority. (And I haven't even started to discuss the questions of dishonest financing and foreign interference on the Leave side.)
All respectable predictions say leaving the EU will damage our jobs, businesses, savings, public services, standing in the world etc. Before we take such a fundamental and damaging step, it is essential we know that it really is what people want. 
The 2016 referendum was ADVISORY, and not binding on Parliament. This is absolutely clear from the legislation itself and from the pronouncements of government ministers advocating it. If we leave the EU, therefore, the consequences will be the responsibility of Parliament. I do not think historians will be impressed by its performance so far. Supporting this amendment gives Parliament a chance to start to repair the damage it has done.
Please vote for the amendment.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Friday, 20 April 2018

Brexitwatch; what Labour really thinks about Brexit

Somebody called Barry Gardiner is apparently Labour's 'shadow international trade secretary' A couple of weeks ago he was secretly recorded saying worries that peace in Ireland could be threatened by the re-introduction of a border between north and south after Brexit were just a bit of flimflam concocted by the Irish Government and Sinn Fein. 

As for, Labour's Brexit tests, designed to try to prevent the UK being completely destroyed by leaving the EU, they were 'bollocks'. 

When front bench spokesperson Owen Smith said that as the Brexit people had voted for could not be delivered, there should be a referendum on any actual terms negotiated, Jeremy Corbyn sacked him for not following party policy. Barry Gardiner is still in his job.

I don't think he should be, and this is what I wrote to my MP, who happens to be Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Keir Starmer:

Dear Sir Keir, 
I had to cover the Birmingham pub bombings as a tv reporter. I have lived through a series of IRA bombing campaigns, and I have relatives in Northern Ireland and the Republic. I am horrified that Barry Gardiner is prepared to jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement in order to pursue his fantasy of a Brexit that everyone who has given it a moment's thought, knows cannot be achieved. That alone should have been enough to get him sacked from the Shadow Cabinet, as Owen Smith was.
Now I read that he also rejects the key basis of Labour's Brexit policy - the six tests - though he did not have the guts to say so publicly. Why is he still in his job?
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Brexitwatch: fighting Brexit at the local elections on May 3

In my post for April 8, you can see a letter I sent to my (Labour) councillors asking for their advice on who I should vote for in the local elections in view of my belief that Brexit is the worst problem facing local government.

Below is a councillor’s reply, and my reply to him. As you can see, his response has convinced me that it would be wrong to vote for Labour (or any other Brexit-supporting party, e.g. Conservative) at the local elections.

Dear John,

Apologies, but I had to forward this to my personal email as we cannot use council emails for party political purposes. 

I agree that the impacts of Brexit will be signficant. Particularly for our poorest communities in the UK. Ironically, often where the vote for Brexit was the strongest. 

In Camden we have thousands of non-UK EU citizens who live and work here. I’m extremely proud of this fact, and to have a number of non-UK EU citizens as fellow cllrs. Camden has the gateway to Europe, via the Eurostar. And a large number of public services and sectors (like the tech industry) rely on the benefits we have through EU membership. 

Our manifesto which will be published Tuesday will make a strong statement, that Camden Labour will campaign to protect the rights of EU citizens, and to have the strongest possible links with Europe. 

In terms of practical measures, we will produce advice and support to citizens living here, work with the Mayor and continue to lobby and campaign so that no deal can be agreed without it having democratic legitimacy. 

Angela and I voted Remain, and believe strongly in the benefits of EU membership, economical, politically and socially. 

Best wishes,


Dear Councillor Beales,
Thank you for your very prompt response. I have thought carefully about what you say, but I will not be voting Labour at the local elections, nor at any other election until the party starts wholeheartedly opposing Brexit.
The measures you outline are essentially designed to mitigate the worst effects of Brexit, but any Brexit of any kind will be less good for the people of the UK (with the possible exception of a small number of the very rich) than remaining in the EU, and, as you yourself, admit, the people who will be most damaged are those Labour is supposed to care most about.
The only way to 'have the strongest possible links with Europe' is to stay in the EU. 
I'm quite old, and UK politicians have made plenty of mistakes in my life time, but Brexit is by far the worst. Labour is making a terrible mistake by not fighting this act of national self-harm. If it does not have a rapid change of heart, historians of the future will treat the party very harshly, and rightly so.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Friday, 13 April 2018

Should our MPs have a say on World War Three?

So Theresa May wants to go to war against Syria and, by implication, its ally Russia. One false move and it could be World War Three, but what could possibly go wrong with Donald Trump in the White House and Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary?

President Assad is plainly a very bad man, but what is an attack on him designed to achieve? Help the Islamic extremists who are among those opposing him, so it will be easier for them to attack people in British streets? Get our forces involved in a complex, murderous civil war, with no end in sight? Set off a war against Russia?

Our MPs should be debating these questions NOW. Theresa May plainly wants to delay any discussion until AFTER she has taken military action. That is not good enough. MPs should not be waiting for an invitation, they should be at Westminster demanding their voices are heard.

This is what I have written to my MP, Labour's Sir Keir Starmer.

Dear Sir Keir,
Why aren't you and your fellow MPs in the House of Commons? The survival of our country could be at stake. One false move and we could be into World War Three. (Just remind me - who is our Foreign Secretary?)
You should not be waiting for a summons from the Prime Minister. You should be in the chamber debating what to do about this crisis even if the government doesn't want you there. If you can't get into the chamber, I'm sure there are plenty of other places to hold a debate.
MPs scandalously failed us over Brexit. You wanted to be an irrelevance on that great question. Now Theresa May plainly thinks she can ignore you when it comes to starting a war too.
What are you going to do about it?
I look forward to hearing from you.
John Withington

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Brexitwatch: a letter to local councillors

If you want to stop Brexit, but you have a Labour or Conservative MP and/or local council, what can you do? This is a letter I have sent to my local councillors and the local council leader - with a similar one to my MP - in the run-up to the local elections. Feel free to use, adapt etc
Dear Councillors,
I am wondering who to vote for in the local elections.
Brexit will mean continuing austerity and the crippling of public services because of the way it will depress our economy and the government's tax take.
The evidence is now clear that any kind of Brexit will leave people poorer than if we stay in the EU. It is also plain that the Brexit people were conned into voting for cannot be delivered. The referendum vote was advisory and not binding on MPs. There is, therefore, no longer any excuse for proceeding with Brexit.
So I need to know what Labour is going to do to stop it.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Brexitwatch: a lesson from history - the Great Chinese Famine

From 1959 to 1961, tens of millions died in a terrible famine in Chairman Mao’s China. There was bad weather, but foolish government policies, such as ordering peasants to abandon their fields and concentrate on making steel instead, were also to blame.

Anyone watching the mainstream media or listening to politicians would have had no idea that millions were starving to death. The State Statistical Bureau had been shut down and replaced by ‘good news reporting stations’, and there was fierce competition between local activists to be the most Maoist by announcing the best news.

So the smaller the real harvests became, the bigger the phantom ones reported. The New China News Agency said peasants were growing pumpkins weighing 10 stones, cows were supposed to have been successfully crossed with pigs. There seemed to be more than enough food to go round, so Mao cut imports and increased exports.

He refused to hand out food from the official granaries, and party activists tortured peasants they believed were hoarding non-existent grain. This was perhaps the first famine in history that devastated the whole of China, but the areas that suffered most were those run by the most fanatical Maoists.

*For more, see A Disastrous History of the World.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Brexitwatch: a letter to the BBC

I am tired of the constant pro-Brexit bias and the inaccuracies about leaving the EU that I keep seeing and hearing on the BBC, a broadcaster I used to admire. This is what I have written to them. Please feel free to borrow, adapt etc if you feel the same.

This is the link for complaints 

I have held my tongue since the EU referendum, but I can do so no longer.

For decades I have defended the BBC and the licence fee, but, in view of the Corporation’s blatant pro-Brexit bias, I no longer feel I can.

During about 30 minutes on the ‘Today’ programme of March 29 on Radio 4, there were a series of examples of this. First shortly before 0800 Nick Robinson said that Remainers were demanding a ‘Second Referendum’ on the Brexit terms. This is completely inaccurate. There has not yet been a referendum on the Brexit terms, so any referendum on them would plainly be the first. To describe it as a ‘second referendum’ is likely, by accident or design, to undermine support for it by implying falsely that it is a re-run of or an attempt to subvert a referendum that has already been held.

Then, around 0815, Brexit supporter Liam Fox was allowed to claim without challenge that the UK economy had been doing well since the Brexit vote. This is completely untrue. The government’s own figures show the UK’s was the only major economy in the world to slow down last year, the fall in the pound that the Brexit vote caused has made us all poorer, real wages are still declining etc, etc. Why did your interviewer fail to put these points to Dr Fox?

Sadly, this is not an isolated instance. While pro-EU interviewees are usually given a hard time, Brexiters are allowed to spout their untruths without challenge. When a handful of Brexit campaigners set up a stunt the BBC covers it. When tens of thousands march against Brexit across the country, the BBC ignores it.

 The EU referendum was advisory and non-binding on MPs. The BBC constantly ignores this etc. etc.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Brexitwatch: respect and obedience - the latest Brexit con

As George Orwell astutely noted in 1984, one of the crucial steps in the transition from democracy to dictatorship (Theresa May would presumably call this the ‘implementation phase’) is the perversion of language. We have heard a lot of it since the Brexit referendum.

I read today that fewer than half even of Leave voters think Brexit will benefit them and their families, but 90 per cent still believe the referendum result should be ‘respected’. I agree with them, the result should be ‘respected’, but as George Orwell would no doubt remind us, ‘respect’ is not the same as ‘obey’. Generals often speak about ‘respecting’ the enemy, but that does not mean they obey them!

The referendum was advisory, not binding, at the insistence of the Parliament Brexiters say must be sovereign. So MPs are NOT bound by the result, but they should respect this enormous consultative exercise by debating and taking decisions, without further delay, on these questions:-

1. Was the referendum conducted fairly and is its result valid? If no, MPs must act at once to halt the withdrawal process and decide how to proceed. Should there be a new referendum? If so, how should it be conducted? Should it be binding or advisory? etc

2. If they consider the result of the 2016 referendum IS valid, MPs must examine what would be the effect on the prosperity, quality of life, security, integrity etc of the UK if we were to leave the EU, and, if they were to decide that it would be in our national interest to leave, then they must examine what post-Brexit state we should be aiming for – in or out of the Single Market and/or customs union, for example.

Yes. I know it’s a scandal that MPs have failed to do any of this during the 21 months since the referendum, but they need to do it NOW before they consign themselves to irrelevance. And if the government tries to block their efforts, they must bring it down.

*Will a woman always win an argument with a man? Here's a television vox pop I conducted in Coventry in 1974. http://www.macearchive.org/films/atv-today-12091974-vox-pop-arguing

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Christchurch: seven years after the earthquake

Just back from New Zealand where the delightful city of Christchurch is still toiling to recover from the earthquake of 22 February 2011, which killed 185 people. Buildings had already been weakened by another quake five months before in September 2010.

Of the victims, 115 died in the 6-storey Canterbury Television Building. The Royal Commission that conducted an inquiry into the disaster said the local authority should not have allowed it to be re-occupied after the quake of 2010.

Seven years on, the damage from the 2011 quake is still clear to see, with many buildings unrepaired, notably the cathedral which still has an end wall missing.

Concern has been expressed about the number of key reconstruction projects that have failed to get underway, and the government has admitted some will not be finished for years.

*One of the things I missed while I was away was this review of my book Secrets of the Centenarians in the Oldie.  https://www.theoldie.co.uk/blog/will-you-score-a-century

Thursday, 22 March 2018

100 years ago this month - the start of the world's deadliest flu epidemic

In March 1918, a cook at Fort Riley in Kansas, USA reported to the infirmary with a 'bad cold'. By noon, 100 men were sick. More than 40 at the camp would die. With America and its allies caught up in the dreadful conflict of the Great War, the authorities tried to keep the news as quiet as possible from the enemy.

But it soon became impossible. For 12 days in May, the British fleet could not take to the sea because 10,000 sailors were ill. The disease appeared to strike with frightening speed. The Times wrote of people being 'perfectly well' at ten o' clock, but 'prostrate' by noon. 

Another odd thing was that unlike most flu epidemics, this one seemed to hit the young and fit harder than the old. More than 30,000 American soldiers would die of the disease, with a top doctor declaring at one point that it was more dangerous to be in a camp in the US than on the front line in France.

Across the world, what became known as 'Spanish flu' is estimated to have claimed about 70 million lives, while the First World War killed perhaps 17 million in all. Famous victims included the painter Egon Schiele, while King George V, the Kaiser, Woodrow Wilson and Walt Disney caught it, but survived.

For the full story, see A Disastrous History of the World.

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.