Category Archives: Brexit

My views on Brexit.

My plea to the right honourables for the next 64 days

I feel nearly sorry for British MPs right now. After all, future historians are unlikely to speak of them in glowing terms, whatever the future of the country turns out to be. Of particular disappointment is that the mainstream political parties have each distinguished themselves by patently trying and bizzarely, succeeding in behaving worse than others. And I’m definitely not alone in hating the polarising language that parliamentarians have universally adopted, predictably guaranteeing that any (pretence of) debate is locked into a mutual us shouting over them slanging match.

Every conceivable person in government and in the Commons is telling the PM what she should/has to/MUST DO. Meanwhile, the EU is telling the PM “we could tweak a couple of things to help you pass through this Parliament, but nein, désolés, we’re not undoing two years of hard work with you”, some German folks send a love letter to the country in The Times and even the Queen is moved to make a couple of gentle reminders on the virtue of collaborative efforts. Which is why I feel entirely justified to add my plea to MPs to put aside their own political futures and think a little more strategically, with a longer term focus than their next term of offce. Hardly an original thought but let me elaborate just a little.

 

My point is that Brexit is now a problem that needs to be solved (it has been for a long time – Britain’s relations with the rest of Europe, and with the rest of the world come to that, have long been a subject for soul-searching for this island nation). It’s an issue  – aka a fantastic opportunity to be harnessed, a tragedy in the making or, dare I suggest it, possibly something in the middle – that needs addressing.

So if you’re an MP with a business background, how are you going to secure the interests of Britanniaship Enterprise and work towards her future prosperity? What is your corporate strategy for the next few years and your key priorities for the coming financial year? If you have a medical background, what are your recommendations for the currently generally healthy UK adult (on a global scale)? Any advice on how to keep them healthy come to mind, like recommending a fitness regime or keeping an eye on the effects of unhelpful genetic predispositions? If you’re a lawyer by training, you’ll definitely be able to help codify the very many new legal frameworks that are going to be needed, whatever the scenario. If you’re a scientist, let’s have some of that scientific method please, including some guidance on how to use data. If you’ve ever been a teacher, how about explaining and educating your fellow MPs about useful stuff they might like to know about? If you’re a diplomat, a historian, a philosopher, a sociologist, you have something useful to say about what’s happening.

 

If you have none of this knowledge or master none of these skills, then for pity’s sake, at least just stop shouting and do your best.

Photo: Mark Duffy/AP

A view from 2179

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Extracts from Dawn of the Third Millennium, an analysis of the 1989-2053 period by Elena Ferris, published by Shandelgos University Press in 2179

Many of the people who lived in the 2010s and 2020s thought they were experiencing turbulent times and indeed the period is marked by a series of events that still divides historians today.

 

Some see the over-reaction to small-scale but exceedingly well publicised acts of terror in affluent countries as a blip in an otherwise remarkably long period of nations evolving and organising themselves peacefully – other analysts focus instead on the emergence of an entirely new dialectic in conflict management which occurred then, now often roughly summarised as “the Y2K culture clash”.

Noteworthy among these featured an upsurge of activity from a number of a wide range of extremist groups, claiming a legitimacy based on ideology and going by different (often tellingly aggressive) names. They generally operated in groups, guerrilla style, and also set the conditions for a number of similarly motivated individuals to act alone. Low budget low technology suicide bomb and knife attacks and vehicle ramming were all popular forms of terrorist activity.  Migrants were seen interchangeably as the perpetrators of terror or their victims. Indeed, “migration” was blamed for many things, even if those invoking it were generally in fact making reference to “cultural clashes.”

The intricate interplay of peoples, lands and cultures has always generated both tremendous creativity and wealth on the one hand and conflict on the other, often concurrently. The  violent events mentioned above brought to the fore deep, old and often painful racial and gender issues. At the start of the third millennium, humanity was still coping with these spectacularly incompetently. Progress in that field a few decades later did stabilise the situation somewhat, as evidenced for instance by new channels being created for the dissemination of science, trade and the arts; those were the fresh incarnations of the romantically named “silk route”, “caravans” and “silicon valley” of previous eras.

 

 

IMG_2437Other historians single out the decision of one nation to remove itself from an international alliance it had joined 40 years previously as the most symbolic event of the period.

The Britons of 2016, who voted in a democratic referendum to arrive at that decision, certainly believed that this was the most critical issue of their time. Half the population (52%) hailed the fantastic new opportunity that this new found freedom would bring their country, enabling them to build on a glorious past and create an even brighter future; the other half (48%) insisted that this separation from a strong union of like-minded nations, which had a track record of improving the well-being and wealth of its members, was a grave mistake that Britain would repent at leisure. The prophets of doom were proved wrong: less than forty years later, in 2053, Britannia (officially known until 2029 as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland after Scotland elected to leave the Union and Northern Ireland joined the Republic of Ireland, the latter choice eventually putting paid to centuries of tension in that region) re-entered the European Union, as a full member, whereas it had during its first period of membership refused to take part in several key measures such as a shared currency and shared border control mechanisms. In the meantime, the Union had consolidated its harmonisation programmes considerably and introduced some fairly revolutionary social policies.

 

Yet another kind of historian prefers to track the shadowy progress of a group of people who could be described as a type of illuminati: the environmentalists. Their story began practically as an underground movement way back in the 20th century and they gained steady momentum throughout the next century, spreading the gospel of environmental awareness and activism over the decades. Although they conspicuously failed to organise themselves as a political party, they did successfully introduce their agenda to mainstream political parties of varying creeds. This led to the achievement of a number of significant results in the safeguarding of planet Earth, to some extent minimising the impact of some of the worst depredations in previous centuries.

 

(…)

 

Today, as I transfer these words to you directly from my brain to yours via the communication interfaces located somewhere in the region of your left temple and mine, the events described in previous chapters can justifiably be described as ranging from the ludicrous to the criminal.

It seems barely possible that human beings, equipped with sophisticated sensory equipment and cognitive skills, should have been the ones to instigate these events. It seems incredible that the many worthies who had attained a remarkable level of scientific understanding and technological craftsmanship, took so long to turn the tide. It seems amazing that poets and thinkers had to struggle so much to acknowledge that  humans share planet Earth with one another and also with other species and organisms.

To get our brains round this, we need to remind ourselves of the following facts: at the start of the period we are considering, the human race found itself able to generate, store, process, retrieve and transfer hitherto unimaginable quantities of data of all kinds. This all happened in a very short space of time indeed.

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Engineers, technicians and computer scientists had barely started building machines and writing code and they were already startling their contemporaries with talk of internet, quantum computers, online social media, augmented reality, data science and artificial intelligence. They were forging ahead, ignoring the fact that most of the human activities they were serving and sometimes replacing were organised fundamentally differently. Industry, education, retail, healthcare, education and many other vital human activities had until then tended to rely on a combination of complete separation between specialisms, skills, disciplines, sectors, and so on, endless varieties of hierarchical structures and a strictly linear approach to change.

 

Underpinning all this was a critical difference in the communication method used by the different players: those who clung to human languages only, some even quaintly insisting on the maintenance of arcane spelling, grammar and pronunciation rules, and those who were also capable of communicating in code, binary or otherwise. Incredibly, communicologists only finally took over from linguists in the 2070s.

 

 

With this in mind, it is perhaps a little easier to understand how humans required the best part of a century to assimilate these new functionalities, as it were, and use them to address the old problems that seemed to be felt particularly acutely by our predecessors in the 2010s and 2020s. Here they were, facing the same historical cycles of problems and progress that generations before them had faced (a favourite pastime of erudite people was to quote texts from ancient Roman authors proving this), here they were with the tantalising possibilities offered by amazing achievements: a peaceful international collaboration existed in space! a computer had beaten a go master! electric driverless vehicles had revolutionised transport! The disappointment and frustration of not being able to solve old problems, despite all these wonderful new feats, grabbed attention for a number of years.

 

 

In the next chapter, we will explore how a comprehensive and systematic review of these and other issues, starting from the 2030s, paved the way for the Bionic Revolution that was to follow. Brief histories of space travel and ball games in that period will serve to illustrate this analysis.

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Photos: Richard Wilkinson

Two weeks is a long time in post-Brexit politics

In case you’re new to this blog: I was firmly in the Remain camp (a non-voting supporter, despite being a British citizen but that’s another story). I use the past tense because I think it important to recognise that Brexit has been decided by the people and will happen, in one form or other.

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I’m not going to make any predictions about the possible economic outcomes of this decision, the model that will be adopted finally, or Britain’s future standing in the world. (Let’s face it, my previous record is not good, I predicted that Remain would win the day.) But I do know that there’s a lot of work to get through, work of a very practical and pressing nature.

Let’s assume that the political landscape settles down to some sort of normality this autumn. The people at the helm of their respective parties, when they know who they are, will need to devise a process to produce a new government, which itself will need a strong mandate to implement the exit plan it will have been voted on, which in turn will need to address such points as access to the single market, a position on immigration, the precise nature of the friendly relationship it wishes to maintain with the rest of Europe and also how it proposes to deal with the respective positions adopted by the various nations in the United Kingdom.

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This is a lot to take on. However, by far the trickiest task facing the next government is how to take the people with them. No, democracy isn’t perfect. And no, we can’t have another referendum, changing the rules after the event because we don’t like the result is not sensible (retrospective measures very rarely are.) But yes, people are really really cross and fed up. I won’t dwell on the rather unhelpful caricatures of Remainers and Brexiteers that have proliferated over the past couple of weeks. I’ll try and stop lamenting over the visible anger and hurt expressed on both sides, with unfair accusations of racism and exasperation about misinformation chief among them.

For my part, the main change I would like to see relates to that last point, misinformation. If there was a Maslow’s hierarchy of needs specific to information, I would put education at the bottom of it. In fact, it would take up two thirds of the pyramid. A knowledge base from which to start, the ability to process information and the nurturing of young people’s curiosity and questioning, these all depend on education, wherever it comes from.  I would label the remaining third of the pyramid “communication”.

As regards education, despite the many frustrations we experience with a range of education systems, I do believe that a lot of attention is being paid to how we teach our young. We generally care about it and a LOT of people are engaged: families, teachers, schools and education ministries.

On the other hand, I believe that we are only scratching the surface of understanding how communication really works for humans. I am becoming increasingly fascinated with this and have started musing on the subject. I propose to try and learn some more, which probably means some research. Pointers and suggestions welcome; right now I’m thinking about the power of “story telling” for instance, the insistence on the appeal to emotions to promote a message and all that sort of thing.

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Brexit is already no longer absolutely dominating British and European headlines. Since June 23rd, atrocities in Bangladesh and Iraq, shootings in the US and various sporting events have claimed column inches and bandwidth. Soon, Messrs Farage, Johnson, Gove, Cameron, Corbyn et al will gradually fade away from wordy articles, incendiary tweets, interviews, satirical sketches and cartoons, only to be referred to occasionally alongside other such former politicians as Margaret Thatcher, Enoch Powell and Michael Foot. O brave new world, etc.

 

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Miranda – The Tempest by John William Waterhouse