Sunday, 16 July 2017

Removing gender from language is another step towards equality

Pride is a yearly event that takes place in a host of cities around the world. It celebrates diversity of sexuality and freedom of expression in this matter. Many of the strongest critics are those who still see the world in binary (male/female), and do not wish their view of life to be challenged. But they are failing to hold back the tide. This month, the management of the London Underground decided to abandon announcements that start with "ladies and gentlemen" and instead say "hello everyone". This is a step into the future, not a left-wing language coup.

Who says we should say "ladies and gentlemen" rather than "gentlemen and ladies"? Why do we start a formal letter with "Dear Sir / Madam" rather than "Dear Madam / Sir"? Where have those standards of etiquette gone these days? Surely women should always go first, no matter how illogical the sequence? And isn't everything male or female? Why are we being told there's this new non-binary gender? It's just the current trend, obviously, being run by left-wing ideologues to subvert the world order and bring down the system.

Well, not quite. In fact, not at all.

This is simply the way the world has been going. For many years, anything that contradicted the status quo was disapproved of, frowned upon, buried under other news or even carried the threat of a criminal record. Lots of people who were forced into heterosexual relationships or marriage in the past because it was expected of them lived in terrible depression and anxiety because they felt pressurised into this, and a great deal of those who are now in their forties and above have seized their chances to realign more appropriately with their orientation in this newly-open societal change. Young people today realise who they are much earlier, and all to the good. In many countries this is now clearly not the case, but the proliferation of this multi-gender, rainbow-coloured society can only continue now that it does not carry quite the stigma it once did (and only recently). However, it will be harder in a lot more countries than it is in others.


Gender grammar in language is one of the greatest obstacles.

The predominantly three-gender or common and neuter Germanic and genderless Anglophone countries are the main drivers of this new trend. Gender-neutral languages like English make it much easier to accept the idea of multiple sexuality. Latin-based languages like French and Spanish put everything and everyone exclusively into categories of masculine and feminine, even categorising more traditionally male/female objects in their grammar - la table, la maison, la cuisine (women in French should be in the house), le travail, le problème (only men work and solve problems in French, apparently), el tiempo, el muro (men only can tell the time and build walls in Spanish), la mesa, la flor (women in Spanish should take care of flowers on their tables at home). This happens in many languages and will not disappear overnight. So it is much harder for speakers of two-gender languages to conceive of more genders. Society puts great pressure on people to follow the herd, but we are starting to see changes brought about by changing attitudes and the raising of awareness of issues to do with gender and sexuality. Only the most judgemental of people are causing a delay in the progress and advancement of society, with language a vital tool in the battle to change hearts and minds.

German and Dutch throw up oddities, like the word for girl, which is Mädchen and meisje respectively. Due to -chen and -je endings signifying pejoratives, which are always categorised as neutral, girls in these languages, paradoxically, are grammatically not considered female. When asking "where is the girl?" in German,"wo ist das Mädchen?" it is still not uncommon to hear "it is here" ("Es ist hier") as a reply.

In English, there has been a shift towards using "they" for non-binary people, and this is catching on quite rapidly. However, language has been a powerful tool in establishing norms for centuries, so it may be much more difficult for French or Spanish speakers to get used to this idea. In French and Spanish even the word "they" is split by gender: ils/ellos, elles/ellas. This is why the idea of gender is easier for English speakers. German and Dutch, as well as the Slavic languages, with their notions of neutral gender will also find the transition from binary much easier. I believe this is why countries like Poland have always had such a high number of women in employment, and why Scandinavia is the home of linguistic sexual experimentation, where parents in some places are encouraged not to teach gender distinction to their children.

This is clearly not a phenomenon that is typical of whole countries and the speakers thereof. There are most certainly a great number of people in countries with genderless or multi-gender languages who still think in binary. They can be those who never thought of the idea before, but would not be against it, or they can be traditionalists who believe only in heterosexual marriage. They might be religious, they might be political (or both), but they are clearly shrinking in number as exposure to more and more non-binary people is becoming commonplace, especially in the big cities. All opinions and theories are there to be challenged, and now that it is becoming clearer that the pressure put on people for a very long time to blend in with established "norms" has caused untold misery and resentment down the years, we can finally do something about making amends for this. Medical and scientific research has highlighted that many children, some very young, feel uncomfortable with the gender they are born into. Fortunately, this world we are living in now is more equipped to deal with people's orientation than ever before. We just need languages to change with the times too.

Some genderless languages:


Some languages with masculine and feminine genders only:

Arabic (with some exceptions)
Lithuanian (with some exceptions)

Some languages with masculine, feminine and neuter:

Dutch (although with the article de being used for both masculine and feminine, they are barely distinguishable any more)
Norwegian (with some regional exceptions)
Czech, Polish and Slovak (Western Slavic languages) have three genders, but also distinguish between the animate and the inanimate

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Why is anti-establishment sentiment thriving even after Brexit?

Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

There was quite a gloating article in the Guardian this week on Brexit and its consequences on the rest of Europe. In a nutshell, it said that Europe had been revolted by the self-harm the UK has inflicted on itself and the instability it has unleashed on the British economy, its politics and society in general. Despite its "I told you so" theme, it is not wrong. But the battle for the soul of Britain has been hijacked by two opposing factions: the rich on one side and the poor on the other, with paradoxically the poor unwittingly doing the bidding of those who would like to subjugate them. Anti-establishment fever tilted the vote towards Brexit, not a genuine desire to leave the EU.

Oh David Cameron, what have you unleashed? In fact, I could replace the former Prime Minister in that sentence with a number of people, like the present incumbent (whoever that is at the time you read this), or maybe a few media moguls. But this all goes back decades. It is a seething collection of pustules that has been awaiting its time to spew its fetid contents all over the skin of public life and drag the victim into a chronic downward spiral of health and well-being.

There is a correlation between the Brexit vote and the current malaise in society - let me explain...

Successive governments have run public services into the ground through cutting costs, economy drives and selling off tenders to the private sector. None of this needed to happen if it were not for ideology-driven politicians whether in national government or local councils, and their chums in the private sector from lobbyists to energy conglomerates, pharmaceutical companies to building contractors. Every one of them is partly to blame for the current situation. The situation is clear: for the last 40 years, cheap is best, and to hell with the consequences. Hospitals and health workers, infrastructure building, public hygiene, education facilities and staff, police, firefighters, the military, even libraries, have been affected by the scything down of their expenses all so that governments, councils and their contractors can say to their clients (that's you), that they have been saving money in your name.

Well I don't know about you, but as far as I am aware, it's the exact opposite of that method that leads to good running of public services. Money needs to be put into their systems, not removed. That means that instead of reducing our income tax bills, VAT payments and council charges, the powers that be should be raising them, or at least looking for ways to maximise returns. When some suited chinless wonder from the richer side of public life comes on TV and warns against voting for various politicians because "your bills will go up", people need to remember that this bozo from the landed gentry is actually worried about his own costs going up. He will be the first to see a reduction in his own income because he is earning more per year than most earn in ten or twenty years. Why is Jeremy Corbyn being picked out for special treatment? Precisely because of that. He wants public services to run properly and rich dudes fear that if they do, not only will they lose money, they'll lose the opportunity to buy into them when lobbyists have finished convincing politicians to sell.

Back in the 1980s, public services were run into the ground until the public clamour to sell those services off was so loud, that this was the most logical step. It was a tactic used time and again by the then government to make the case for its sale. This was true for water, energy, gas, telephony, public transport, even security services. What we saw, though, was a change in the accountability and rights of those public services, now they were private. Trains that were before late or didn't show up at all were blamed on strikes and militant worker-related action, whereas now the services are not much better and in some cases worse, despite being sold off. Outsourcing and selling off public services has led us nowhere, except that now those services need no longer be directly accountable to the government, and ultimately, the public. It also gives carte blanche to those companies to limit pay, reduce workers' rights and entitlements, all in the name of saving money. They have effectively written themselves out of any social responsibility.

It is this selfish ideology that has led to this moment in history (and yes, this is history - PhD theses will be written about this period in the not-too-distant future) where the gap between rich and poor has finally become too wide, and where injustice in society has become plain for all to see where once it was easier to sweep it aside with gimmicks and distractions, fobbing people off with standard soundbites and impersonal press releases.

And things are a lot more complicated than on the face of it. Far from being a country that's full to bursting, as landowners, right-wing politicians and lobbyists will tell you, there is plenty of room. Indeed, only a very small percentage of the land has been built on. The real issue is that it is a country whose infrastructure has not been invested in for a very long time, and citizens' roles in society are becoming less and less welcome, and it shows:

  • the hospitals are maybe fully equipped, but many times there are staff shortages or there are not enough beds for patients, leading to dangerously long waiting times. If real investment were made to ensure there were enough fully-staffed hospitals for everyone, we would need to delve deep into our pockets 
  • you should send your child to a local school no matter its ranking, meaning that pupils are liable to be turned down if their parents try to apply for a place in what might be a more suitable school outside their catchment area, even if it is just over a designated line. This means house prices in certain areas rise, and the rules prevent any logic from being used. The fallout from this is that people are being forced to do irrational things to get their children into the school of their choice
  • the Royal Navy, once the envy of the world, is now a shadow of itself, as is the British Army and the Royal Air Force, all so the defence budget can be spent on a nuclear arsenal that nobody dare use
  • there is a huge swathe of building land that is lying unused and empty because building companies refuse to build on it, meaning prices of houses go spiralling up, but more shockingly, their untouched land turns them a huge profit
There are many more examples of this, and people have become sick and tired of being treated like commodities. They know that successive governments have cut everything to the bone, they know the country is dangerously paired back to the very limits of manageability, they just haven't joined all the dots yet, but they are slowly becoming aware of it. 

Having an ideology of saving money for the sake of it has proven recently to be a myth that has badly exposed the long-term dangers of such recklessness in playing with people's dignity and respect, and nowhere has that been more evident than in the case of Grenfell Tower in West London. What has struck me is how someone came up with the idea of saving a few thousand measly pounds by choosing an inferior cladding material in a refurbishment project to make the outside of a tower block more aesthetically pleasing while neglecting the inside, where residents - who are human beings, by the way - live.

The sentiment of grief turned to anger very quickly, leading to a general feeling of ill-will towards the Prime Minister, the government, Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council, and various contracting firms. This is not surprising, but it is a microcosm of UK life in general. The protests we saw in Whitehall and at Kensington Town Hall are just a spit in the ocean of general British dissatisfaction with the way life is going at the moment, and this is manifesting itself in so many ways.

The Brexit referendum last year, in my opinion, was won by a three-way split between different sections of the public: 
  • easily-led individuals who believe everything that the right-wing press tells them, as well as unadventurous, stay-at-home monolinguals who know nothing about the wider world except the two-week drunken jaunt they undertake every summer to some touristic Mediterranean concrete jungle
  • people with vested interests in pulling out of the EU, such as some unscrupulous employers, financial investors and politicians, who have been heavily sponsored to say negative things about the EU, and finally
  • genuinely disaffected, forgotten and ignored people all around the country who wanted to vote for a change and saw it as their way to stage a protest; effectively kicking the government where it hurts for their constant overlooking of their issues (it is these people I can forgive for voting the way they did - so would I, probably)
What the last group fails to realise, is that by voting the way they did, they have done exactly what the people who are profiting from making their lives a misery wanted them to do; that is to say, they are turkeys voting for Christmas, which makes this such a national tragedy. There is also a gap between the educated and the under-educated, leading to a startling decline in trust in true facts and expert opinions, and a worrying rise in people's willingness to tie their misery to any popular movement that will get them out of the terrible hole they are in, whether that be extremist religion, militant political organisations, support groups, pressure groups or general grumbling to mates at the pub. Brexit had very little to do with many people's actual wishes and more to do with a genuine national mood of dissatisfaction with their circumstances.

What the UK needs right now is a long healing process and a coming to terms with the fact that the people have been lied to for many years for profit and nothing more. The recent election on 9th June reflected people's mistrust of the current incumbents and their handling of social matters as well as Brexit negotiations, where even the Daily Mail has revealed that 69% of people favour a softer departure from the EU. People need to regain a modicum of trust in their politicians and their public services.

Anti-establishment sentiment is thriving in lots of little pockets like local issues, or even as a cause of adverse personal experiences with authority, but when the dots get joined up and everyone realises that it is a national issue, there will be a mass protest at the gates of the high and mighty. People just don't realise yet who is to blame, but this is slowly revealing itself now that people see that cuts in services and selling out to corporate greed have led to the situation we find ourselves in the early summer of 2017.

If you want nice roses, you do not cut at the bottom.

Friday, 2 June 2017

UK Election 2017: tell your old folks their time is up

We live in an age where the source of your news will determine who you vote for and where in the social pyramid you probably find yourself. Most people will read from a news source, but there are stark differences in how those news sources treat various events and deal with diverse opinions. For one newspaper a scandal, for another an amusing anecdote. For one TV news broadcaster a waste of money, for another a long-term solid investment. Who to believe? And why does it matter to read all different sources of news?

My grandfather, who was also my uncle (long story cut short - my mother and her mother married two brothers), once gave me a very important life lesson. I asked him one day why he read a left-leaning newspaper but also a right-leaning one. His answer was clear: you have to know what the enemy is up to. I have never forgotten that line and I have stuck by it ever since.

Today, we live in a multi-faceted media world. We can get our news from someone's Facebook feed, or feeds from sources we ourselves have accepted. We can get it from watching Sky, Fox, ITN, or the BBC. Indeed, we can find it from a rejected newspaper in the train, or maybe we buy our newspapers at the corner shop every morning.

Newspaper readers in particular are very difficult to wean off their paper of choice. You could never give a Sun reader the Guardian and presume they will like it immediately. And vice-versa. Besides, it is not just a question of politics - it is also a matter or familiarity, intellect and taste. But it really matters. Because getting your information from one source is detrimental to acquiring a balanced opinion. Malcolm X once said, "If you aren't careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing." If you stick to one source of news, over time, you are likely to believe everything written in there.

I acquire my news from the BBC, the Guardian, Mail Online and the Independent. I sometimes read the Economist, the Telegraph and watch Channel Four News on their website. I also see a lot of posts on Facebook from very diverse outlets such as Al Jazeera, CNN, and France 24. Most treat issues with the same seriousness and neutrality. Some find a unique angle to report from, some give statistics, some show a non-commentary video to tell the story. But the vast majority do not try to influence you one way or the other, because most of us accept certain issues as already fact, or because the news outlet wants you to make up your own mind through what they present. That is not always the case when it comes to politics.

That brings me on to the upcoming general election in the UK.

Where to begin? Let us start with the spin and the influencing. Take Theresa May's non-appearance at the BBC Election Debate on Wednesday night. She was replaced by the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd. Predictably, the left-wing press said this was a mistake, and she was scared of meeting the people, terrified of debates and not interested in ordinary people. The right-wing press predictably said it was not worth her turning up as it was a waste of time because twice as many people were watching BGT on ITV and because she was out on the streets instead, talking to the people who matter.

Where does the truth lie here? It probably lies somewhere in the middle - Theresa May knew a few weeks ago that she was a country mile in front, so she thought it best to steer clear of controversy and stay on-message, however sterile and boring that is. Saying that, I would say this was a bad error of judgement, as it gave five of the other six debaters the chance to stick in the sword.

Then there were the debates themselves and how they were reported. I watched the last half, and I saw highlights of the rest on highlights clips on YouTube and Facebook. I thought Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron, Angus Robertson, Caroline Lucas and Leanne Wood were quite eloquent, but they spent a long time attacking each other and especially the Tories, and not enough time talking about their own party's credentials. Amber Rudd was robotic and smiled when the audience laughed at her comments, like "judge us on our record". It was as if she knew this was just a soundbite, and she realised the audience knew as well. Paul Nuttall was like a builder's bumcrack at a society ball. He was excess to requirements. He got nearly no applause and when he opened his mouth to speak, he came across like Sean Spicer's less talented stand-in.

How did the newspapers report it?

Take a look at this article in the Guardian, on how biased the media has been behaving against Jeremy Corbyn, which seems to have a lot of credence. This one attacks Corbyn for befriending terrorists, this one shows Corbyn as a security risk, and this one bemoans the left-wing bias of the BBC. They're all from the Daily Mail.

If one runs a Google search for Daily Mail articles on the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn, one can find hundreds and hundreds of them criticising and attacking. The same newspaper's treatment of the Conservatives and Theresa May? Pretty clement, even towards Boris Johnson, the current incumbent of the people's Naughty Step:

In the end, this article is about Boris Johnson's masterful handling of an ice cream known in Britain as a 99 and nothing about policy at all. Funnily enough, there were no negative stories at all, except the one on the PM's refusal to attack Trump for pulling out of the Paris Agreement, and a mild one on her decision not to go to the BBC debate. Press bias is a feature of both the left and the right, and although left-wing ones are quite strong, they don't hit nearly as hard. Nowhere is it more vitriolic and more effective in its premeditated viciousness and underhand manoeuvres than in the hands of the right-wing media. They manipulate stories, change angles and points of view depending on who they are defending or attacking. But now, the tide is turning and many reasonably-minded press outlets are calling them out. Here is one of those, handled very effectively by the Huffington Post.

So, before you put your mark on the ballot paper next week, do a lot of research and question everything. You may even end up changing your vote preferences. For that reason, we need to get the message to the old. They are the ones most heavily influenced by newspapers, especially the right-wing press, and the ones most likely to vote. Demographically, in 5 to 10 years, there will be a lot fewer of them around, and my own feeling is this time is seen by the oligarchs in charge of the UK's press as being the final opportunity to make a landgrab for more wealth and influence.

Fortunately, the young are fighting back. Hundreds of thousands of new registrations to vote have been placed recently, and mainly by the young. This has caused a massive tilt in the opinion polls and a surge towards Labour, but these young people are notoriously languid on polling day. We can only hope they do go out to vote in their droves. The UK needs an effective opposition, especially if the Conservatives win a majority.

The Internet is full of images and graphics, like this one below, debunking the myths and lies spread by the right-wing media. The problem is, old people do not see these things, because newspapers do not have the same scope as the Internet, and so many old people are unaware of these simple issues.

(continued below the images)

These images containing meaningful messages are doing the rounds on the Internet, and so I challenge anyone with a family member over 60 who is without Internet: dig around for 5 to 10 simple yet effective memes of this kind, put it on your laptop or tablets and visit your relative to persuade him/her to vote for a party that wants to look after everyone.

Let us face it, the old have had their day. They need to be told the world will still be going on once they have departed, and it will most certainly not be the same world we have now. The elderly need to be persuaded that in fact, they do not have to put up with the decisions they make. The young do. Make way for youth, go and persuade your grandad to stand aside for the benefit of his descendants.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The truth takes too long to explain. It's time to rectify that.

The problem with human beings is they only live for 60 to 90 years. That is hardly enough time to learn how to make the world a better place. The other problem with many human beings, although fortunately not all, is their laziness: they have a tendency to strive for simplicity and they like complex explanations to everything packaged in neat comprehensible bundles that they can relate to, whether they are correct or not.

Throughout history, humans have tried to better themselves. They have gone from a short, brutal existence in primitive conditions via controlling fire, harnessing electricity and championing human rights, to supersonic flight, connecting everybody through computer screens and curing fatal diseases. Humans have forever been improving others' conditions, but they have not always raised their standards on a personal level.

What do I mean? Well, look at the vast majority of inventions. They have been created to make our lives better, because we are as a species particularly lazy. We will go to great lengths to reduce the need to go to great lengths. What these inventions, discoveries and adaptations do not do, however, is raise standards of intelligence and behaviour in people. They unfortunately go for the lowest common denominator, and if that's not available, the shortest and crudest explanation. This is what we need to correct now.

What has laziness got to do with it?
Well, look around you. People strive for the latest gadgets and machines to make their lives easier. They want them so badly, they'll go out to work for 8 to 12 hours a day to earn the money to pay for them. It's quite a paradox actually, when you think of it. We invest in clothes driers so we don't have to spend twenty minutes hanging up clothes on a line and wait several hours before removing them. Some of us then hire people to iron them for us.

We buy cars to go shopping even if there is a supermarket just down the street so we don't have to cart a couple of bags of acquisitions a few hundred metres, even if a shopping trolley costs a fraction of the price and the exercise would do us good. We buy kitchen appliances so we don't have to whisk, mix, stir or beat food ourselves, and we programme a destination into a map-reading machine so that we don't have to use our brains to read maps ourselves.

We constantly seek to take the effort out of our lives but we run ourselves into the ground getting there. We strive for simplicity in everything, though, including how we consume information, which is why many people are more willing to accept a snazzy slogan from a demagogue than listen to a full-length explanation from an expert.

In fact, people seem to have grown weary of professionals and experts altogether. And this is where the danger lies - politicians, big business people and captains of industry don't get where they are today by being lazy. The cleverest and most ambitious ones use the language of the lazy consumer to persuade, cajole and steamroll their targets into buying their products or supporting their policies. They can make people dance to their tune and wear clothes according to the weather they make. They get out of bed before they've even got into their pyjamas.

I am not saying this is nefarious behaviour; I am saying that they know how to play people's tunes. And there are a lot of people willing to be led. The fashion industry is the most extreme example of this - some rich tycoon with a clothing idea sends a faithful acolyte on TV to say "this is the latest fashion accessory", and before the Y in "accessory", it is sold out and a clamour for more engulfs the shops. If many ordinary people are willing to listen to this useless information about fashion which, let us be frank, has little or no impact in the whole scheme of things, they will of course treat important topics in the same way. And this goes for voting patterns too.

I would go as far as to say that the brutal treatment demonstrated in public voting shows on TV (the hollow commiserations handed out by the hosts, the cruel wait before the announcement, the gossip on the spin-off shows and in the newspapers, etc.) have made many people collectively immune to the feelings of others. People talk about these victims of fame as if they were characters in a soap opera. Added to that, we see evidence of people filming others involved in accidents or being attacked without intervening. Our civilisation is becoming immune to people's suffering.

And this is also reflected in recent political events.

The first that I can bring to mind is the refugee crisis in the Middle East and its spillage into Europe. Leaders of countries are ordering massive fences to keep out people fleeing for their lives and accusing them of carrying diseases into Europe, or worse, of shielding terrorists in their numbers. The problem is the opposite opinion is not an effective counter-argument - that we should allow these people in regardless is not going to win over many neutrals. This whole débâcle has sunk into mud-slinging and blaming each other for either being too hard or too soft. But those in positions of power are too proud to let go of their pet hates and any productive debate is stifled by the constant accusations. Western politics is sinking to lows that will take revolutions to amend.

Furthermore, we can point to the US-Mexico wall that the current incumbent of the White House is so adamant will be an effective antidote to illegal immigration. And this is where human laziness really reaches its nadir - symbolic gestures are seen as effective solutions to people's ills. For that is what the wall on the southern border of the US will be - a symbolic gesture, nothing more. People will go over it, under it, through it and around it. And symbolic gestures are happening everywhere. They stem from human laziness and unwillingness to investigate too far into something in case it turns out to be wrong.

Take the Brexit bus.

Image result for brexit bus

Never was such a succinctly effective untruth so widely used, and accepted, to justify an argument. The other side of the coin, though, cannot be emblazoned on the side of the bus so successfully:

Related image

And herein is the underlying problem - the arguments for and against any subject generally have on one side an attractive soundbite that makes perfect sense to people who like their news in short paragraphs; whilst on the other, a complicated narrative with detailed explanations can confuse or bore the average reader. Guess which story is likely to garner the most supporters...

And that is the disadvantage of those who seek to explain the truth and justify their answers in more detail - they can easily be drowned out by heckling from the opposition, or mocked for their unwieldy explanations. Short, snazzy slogans are the domain of commercial retailers and sports teams, but the political classes are getting in on the act, and taking their ideologies, warped or not, to the wider public. Unfortunately, and I don't think I am going to gain many friends by writing this, but there is a large section of the population that is easily led by simplistic messages that claim to be able to improve their lives, the very basis of commercially successful strategy. Taking this out into the real world is both reckless and unfair. The truth becomes blurred by people wishing it true, no matter how false it is.

The BBC has recently set up a Permanent Reality Check team to look into stories and claims that have been flagged as containing an element of untruth or spin. As you will see from its detailed clarifications, the answers are more complicated than the text they were originally packaged in.

If we are ever going to break the cycle of untruth, we have to simplify the message of truth. how could Brexit have been prevented? Simple, positive messages showing the benefits of the EU would have garnered a lot more support than the Osborne-Cameron fear campaign. Take the Facebook group WhyEurope - they have been developing positive slogans in support of Europe for a while now, and many of them bring the positive side of the story into a far more easily comprehensible light:

"Europe because...
We all have better things to do than waiting at borders."

"Europe because...
You receive the same medical care abroad as at home."

"Europe because...
I don't want to pay custom fees on Amazon"

"Europe because...
it's like being rich - you have 28 different places to live."

"Europe is like a window...
Often invisible, but you're gonna miss it when it's broken."

If only this group could have got this type of message out before the Brexit referendum... But of course, these positive features do not ring with people who aren't as greatly affected by them as they are by more pressing needs, like their health, social security, employment and domestic lives. Which is why their disenfranchisement will lead them to seek scapegoats and form up behind a cheerleader who will promise them sunnier times ahead, even if that may clearly not be true.

Populism does not need to speak the truth; it needs to press the right buttons. Which is why Donald Trump and his team could think up non-events like the Bowling Green massacre that never was, and the much-derided Sweden incident. People want to believe in Area 51 cover-ups and refugee rape stories in Germany. They want to believe it so badly because they are desperate to be right for a change. They have spent decades being told they are at the back end of society, misfits, plebs, rabble, and now the Establishment is teetering on the brink of self-inflicted destruction, those who get out of bed early on the opposing side are seizing their chance.

The only way for the current political class to salvage this is to shine an equally positive light on the future rather than the incessant sad music being they play while forcing through austerity policies on the poorest of society. Governments insist there is no money for schools, public transport, healthcare, welfare and job creation, yet there is ample money for defence and meaningless vanity projects. The current batch of politicians like Schäuble, May, Juncker, Rajoy, Hollande and recently Renzi and Cameron, seem (or seemed) to be doing very little on the surface to quell the fears of the impending downfall of Western civilisation, just carrying on as normal while all around ordinary people are growing tired of hearing about the closure of hospitals here and the reduction in police there, while third countries that are not so friendly to the West are now so obviously trying to infiltrate the system by subterfuge. People are looking for a sign that everything is all right and these dark times will pass.

If the West is serious about keeping up its standards then it needs to find some visionaries and statesmen and women from somewhere. The space is full of politicians acting like glorified civil servants, more worried about their own opinion poll rating than doing what is needed to re-calibrate the situation; any shining lights are extinguished by being marginalised by power-hungry politicians or disillusioned by the rigidity and intransigence of the political system.

It's time someone with a positive vision and two very sharp elbows stepped up before the populists get there first.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Don't bring your religion into politics and count on my respect

I have been utterly astounded by the number of people whom I have come across, on Facebook, in the media, or in person, who vote for political leaders based on one point only, no matter how relevant their other beliefs are for them. This is a very blinkered and self-defeating point of view, and the biggest share of this went to Christian fundamentalists, the vast majority of whom turn out time and time again for one party in many countries that best represents their chance to implement their ideologies, no matter what else the party believes in. We saw this in Poland, which swept the conservatives to power, and now we have seen it in the US, where the Republicans have steamrollered their way to all three houses.

In 2015, the Polish elected the Law and Justice (PiS) party to power, thanks to a growing dissatisfaction in rural areas with the speed of reforms implemented by the previous incumbents, Civic Platform. Although it is understandable for people to vote out a party that has ignored them, there were many who voted for PiS based purely on their sympathies with the Roman Catholic Church in the country. Since PiS was elected, it has taken a sledgehammer to the democratic institutions that were set up to assure constitutional equilibrium in the country, has tried to totally ban in-vitro fertilisation and pregnancy terminations (unsuccessfully) and tried to gag the independent media outlets.

Many fundamentalist Catholics in Poland would never consider voting for another party, and most certainly not for Civic Platform, the party that upheld the right to abortion in a vote not long before the last election. On 3 October 2016, the proposal to ban abortion outright brought Polish women of all kinds out on strike in a huge act of peaceful civil disobedience. Two days later, many politicians had begun to distance themselves from the proposal and an amendment was being considered at the time of writing this.

The irony is, the PiS (standing for Law and Justice) party claims they helped overthrow the Communist regime along with the Catholic Church, so they feel a little like they are owed a debt of gratitude for bringing about democracy, and yet they themselves have the most undemocratic agenda since the fall of Communism in 1989. So much so, a group of intellectuals and moderates established the KOD (Committee for the Safeguarding of Democracy) as a counterweight to the encroaching reduction in freedoms taking place in the country. What they want is closer to a theocracy than a democracy, and the people are finally beginning to realise the consequences of their actions.

The moral (pardon the pun) of the story here is, do not force your ideology on others. If you don't want to be involved in, or even inadvertently condone, something that you fundamentally deplore, that is your right. But it does not mean you should force your view on others by voting for a party based on one point of obsession. This is not how democracy works. Democracy is inclusive, and one size most certainly does not fit all.

Now we turn to the other side of the Atlantic, where the Republican party has won the right to govern the United States for the next four years. There is a great paradox between people with Christian values and the parties they vote for, the vast majority siding with the Republicans.

Let us take a look at Republicans' policies and compare them to Christian values:

So, to start with, they want to keep God in the public sphere. All's well and good if you're a Christian then. But dig a little deeper and the truth is very muddy.

Christian values stipulate that one should do unto others as you would do unto yourself, including:

  • giving shelter to those in need; 
  • providing help to the sick and the poor; 
  • not killing your fellow human. 
And yet the Republicans strongly oppose giving asylum to those who have come to the US for a better life, they wish to foist medical expenses back on the individual and advocate the reversal of the weapons restrictions introduced under Barack Obama. Upon further consultation of policy one can see the Democrats favoured these points. Who is more closely aligned to Christian doctrine in these areas? I know who I would say...

Then there are thorny issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, both favoured by the Democrats and opposed by Republicans. These issues are relevant to far fewer people than those in the preceding paragraph, and yet they are the Republicans' most fertile hunting grounds for opposition supporters. So what this suggests is that, despite the fact that Jesus himself is recorded as hanging around with socially stigmatised groups like prostitutes and ex-criminals, this is irrelevant when it comes to Christians' political behaviour in modern times.

We can ignore the hundreds of thousands of people on the poverty line who are about to have healthcare added to their list of debts; rough up and throw out any under-the-radar immigrants who are doing all the jobs Americans don't want to do rather than give them an amnesty; and risk our lives by going out onto the street hoping not to meet a testosterone-fuelled sicko with a gun licence who can kill at a second's notice. Forget that, because hold your horses, folks... love between two people is only right and proper if they're male and female, and we shouldn't allow anyone to make sexual "mistakes". This is really rather creepy, but yes, fundamentalist (emphasis on the mental, and most definitely not on the fun) Christians would rather vote based on such kneejerk matters such as that rather than on the bigger issues.

The same goes with the environment:
It is entirely feasible that the next energy secretary will be a climate change denier. Despite all the warnings, the evidence and the fact that nearly two hundred countries have signed treaties to deal with it, the US is probably about to assign this job to a sceptic. Christians are split on this issue, although time and time again the Bible tells humans to respect the Earth:
Leviticus 25:1-7 and 23; Psalm 24; Ezekiel 34:18; Matthew 6:26; 1 Timothy 4:4; the list is endless, and they all point to the need to look after our planet. So one would think, that even as a sceptic, one would at least be respectful of our Earth and Her resources. But most Republicans favour withdrawing from environmental treaties and reigniting the fossil fuel industry.

Again, this is considered a side-issue by many fundamentalist Christians, because moral behaviour is a far greater threat to them than this. And to be honest, I find it at best very distasteful, at worst profoundly hypocritical. But most of all it highlights the easily-led, knuckle-headed narrow-mindedness of people (or sheeple, considering they are a flock) that:

  • they would elect a party that condoned the widespread carrying of guns yet called themselves "pro-life"; 
  • would listen to their priest telling them the story of the Good Samaritan and then immediately join a demonstration against Mexicans or Muslims; 
  • would read from 1 Corinthians 13, which even for a non-believer like me is the best definition of love in existence, and then go and heckle an LGBTQ event. 
I remember I once knew a Baptist minister's daughter who, despite the deep unpopularity of John Major's government in 1997 due to the in-fighting, the scandals, the remoteness of the ministers and the institutionalised corruption, declared she would vote for him because he went to church. Did she even pay attention to the news...? I doubt it.

And this is my problem with religion interfering in politics. You cannot blindly let yourself be guided by priests, bishops and cardinals on the very narrow moral issue of sex and love which, by the way, they don't even take part in (if you don't play the game, you can't expect to make up the rules), and at the same time have a clear conscience on other issues of a more urgent nature, like the rising oceans, civilian gun crime, free healthcare, proper education, housing the homeless and welcoming refugees. The Statue of Liberty itself has these words:

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
To spread the light of liberty world-wide for every land."

If this is what you believe, then you are most definitely not a Republican, but you have probably been made to believe that you are by more eloquent people, or cajoled into voting for them by peer pressure, pressure from your elders or by your sheer blindness to the real issues.

I think it's only right to see that Bible verse in full. Learn from it, because it sums up not only what one might call "conventional" love, but also that for the Earth, for our neighbours, for our fellow humans, and our country:

"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

So on that note, if you vote based on one narrow issue of religious doctrine, don't expect me to regard you as an example of moral fortitude, for you have done nothing more than condoned a sort of "Christian Sharia" - the imposition of your religious doctrine in our law and politics, where people of other religions need to coexist. The content of Sharia law is totally different to Christian teaching in many aspects, but I don't think anyone would agree that Christianity should be applied to our laws. This is why, even in France and ultra-Catholic Italy, religious symbols are banned from state workplaces. Religion has a place inside people as individuals - it is a very personal thing. It has no place in a one-size-fits-all public sphere.

So please, keep your own beliefs to yourself, and don't impose them on others.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Will Brexit bring about greater democracy and prosperity? Simple answer: no. More complicated answer: below

The first things all Brexiteers bang on about are:

1. The money the UK throws at the EU when it could give it to the NHS
2. The democratic deficit at the heart of the EU
3. Immigration issues
4. EU law and human rights
5. Corporate freedom
6. Independence
7. Because the UK is always isolated and never gets its own way

These are smokescreens for the the general consumption of those who like their news delivered in handy little soundbites that they can quote later to Bill down the pub. The real truth is somewhat greyer and a lot less savoury. As someone who lives and works on the inside, I would like to put the record straight on a few of these.

Firstly, let us consider a few things concerning the distribution of funds. The UK puts in a lot of money as it is one of the richest. It works a little like the tax system: the more money you make, the larger your contribution, so of course you are going to pay proportionally more than, say, Spain or Finland, but sizeably more than the Czech Republic or Slovenia. That is normal. Why are Brexiteers complaining about this? It seems they want to be clients, not team players. Where's the solidarity in that? And what the country gets in return is never discussed as it's not in their interests.

Yes, the EU can be a little profligate with the funds, but the fact is: agriculture, science and research, infrastructure, education and many other aspects of life would not receive the funding they need, and I include the NHS here, because I think herein lies the rub: the EU funds these things without subjectivity, based purely on need and the effect it will have on the improvement of people's lives.

Do you really think, deep in your heart of hearts, that the Conservative/Neoliberal alliance at the top of and above the UK government really cares about those things? I don't; I think it is another chance to grab more public money. Why waste it on schools when it could be invested in private enterprises and corporate landgrabs? 
At least, with the EU, those funds get to where they are supposed to. Take it away, and watch the NHS falling and being sold off, schools getting privatised, infrastructure budgets being cut, and farms being sold off to rich landowners who can turn them into supermarket-run agri-factories.
Do you trust the UK politicians to look after the NHS, farms and schools? Honestly???

There is the supposed democratic deficit at the heart of the EU. Well, shall I tell you what a democratic deficit looks like? It looks like people who act in their own interests whether they are elected or not. Democratically-minded people do things in the public interest anyhow, whether elected or not. The expenses in the European Commission are incredibly stringently controlled by the Court of Auditors, and you will not see the civil servants being chauffeured about in black cars. You will, though, see the politicians (yes, those in the European Parliament too) being chauffeured about, because they are politicians and to leave them to public transport would be like asking a Yorkshire terrier to do your accounts.

But the Commission is pretty apolitical and works for the benefit of all, and despite its many foibles, is actually more on the side of the people than the politicians. There is a European Ombudsman that anyone can use to blow the whistle on improprieties; there is a European Consumer Rights and Law commissioner, who makes sure we get value for money, like reducing mobile phone tariffs across the EU; and there is a scheme whereby any EU citizen can go into the embassy of another EU country when abroad and get proper representation. But you don't hear about these things because it's not in the interest of the EU's detractors.
But it's a terrific trick of national governments that they get the Commission to do their dirty work, taking one for the team, time after time after time, so that they don't get blamed. The fact of the matter is, though, the 28 national leaders of each country, known as the Council of Ministers, sit down around the world's most expensive table to discuss what they wish the Commission to implement. So, the Commission is, in essence, just carrying out orders of national politicians. In the words of Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes Prime Minister, "Almost all government policy is wrong... but frightfully well carried out."

This is the scare story du jour. And it's a complete fallacy. Let's be honest, shall we? The country is not overcrowded; it is just underdeveloped and badly maintained. The infrastructure was built 150 to 200 years ago after the Industrial Revolution for the society then, and it has been slow to be updated. The roads in the UK are far narrower than in France or Germany, the houses smaller, the hospitals and airports built in far smaller plots. Look at Barajas Airport in Madrid - it is on a plot 5 times bigger than Heathrow. Charles De Gaulle, Frankfurt and such are massive in comparison. But the main issue is housing. It is not that there is no space; it is that the developers have artificially created a bubble by not building on the land they were designated, and so the demand sky-rockets and the prices go up. It is not in their interests to build because the prices will tumble and their profits too.
Furthermore, do you really think the country will sink into the mud because Poles, Lithuanians and Romanians, the large part of whom have a greater work ethic for less pay, are doing all the manual jobs? No. Because, sadly, Brits have become colonialists in their own country. Don't blame the new arrivals - blame mean-minded bosses for not being willing any more to pay full price for a proper day's work. Do you think this will clear up after Brexit? Do you think the gap will return and the market will be filled with British workers in the fields, on building sites and under the kitchen sinks? Rubbish. The market demand is insatiable and even if you started to train up locals now to take over, the full quotient would not be ready for employment for a good few years. And do you think prices and wages will remain the same? No. Because British people still expect a bargain, but workers will not accept the same payment rates as those who come to Britain for work out of necessity. What you will end up with is a skewed law where the cheapest will get all the work and hourly rates will fall everywhere in all sectors of work.

It is claimed that too many people are abusing the EU's Human Rights legislation. Too many people are taking advantage of the current law to get out of prison or to get more benefit payments for themselves. This is not a falsehood, but it is an exaggeration. The UK government has suggested withdrawing from the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights), drawn up by British lawyers after WW2, and implementing its own Bill of Rights. They can go ahead if they want, but the fact that all EU citizens are guaranteed the same rights is enshrined in EU law, meaning equal treatment for all.
Do you really think, Dear Reader, that the British government will make the situation better? I can answer that one now: of course not. If anything, it will make it easier to implement other laws that restrict the rights and freedoms of everyone in the land. I cannot imagine a more sinister power-grab than this. Imagine something simple as EU law concerning consumer rights: let us say you buy a kitchen and it is riddled with problems. EU consumer protection law dictates that the company has to either correct it or replace it without cost. The same goes for clothes, furniture, computers, everything. You have the right to return your goods to the shops within 14 days of purchase, all because of EU law. 

The four very elements that the Leave campaign is highlighting are the four very elements that everyone should be worried about. It is a myth that things will improve if the UK leaves - the EU guarantees so many more freedoms to its citizens:

  • The right to work in other EU countries without needing visas, residence permits or the filling of quotas
  • The right to study in another EU country for all or part of your university course (Erasmus)
  • The right to the same mobile phone roaming costs and no nasty bills no matter where you are in the EU
  • The right to the same standard of healthcare as back in your own country
  • The right to vote in local and European elections wherever you are
  • The right to live where you want and be treated by the local councils and national governments the same as locals
  • The right to the same consumer law as everywhere else
  • The right to jump on a train, plane, boat or bus to France, Belgium or wherever and not need to worry about declaring your alcohol or tobacco
  • The right to go from Lisbon to Warsaw without showing your passport
And many other things.

Just remember one thing: once the UK frees itself from the EU shackles (in other words from keeping it on the straight-and-narrow), there will be nobody else to keep an eye on the opportunism and impunity with which the corporate elite will act. This is your future. Nobody can tell you this because this is much more inflammatory than the stuff that the In and Out camps have been propagating thus far. The In campaign dare not say these things because some of them would be believed.

But the time is coming for you to make up your mind. Do you want to guarantee your own subjugation to a corporate elite? Do you want to hand over the things you most cherish about social democracy to faceless (and often heartless) drones in glass towers? Would you rather your tax money went to help the landed gentry to buy up the rest of the countryside and pay for their own limousines or would you rather your taxes guaranteed a harvest? Would you rather your money went to help poor people up the social ladder a little? Would you rather your taxes paid for infrastructure and education, whether here or in the EU at large?

I know where my allegiances lie - and leaving the largest trading bloc the world has ever known is not going to bring you prosperity. It will bring more prosperity to those who already have it, while turning the country into a feudal state.

Independence from what?
The UK is already independent. 
But I'll tell you what they want you to believe:
That outside the EU "we" will be able to make our own laws. What kind of laws? Do you think it will be for the benefit of UK citizens? I don't. It will be for the benefit of the One Per Cent.
Furthermore, we need to remember who we are and not who we were. We are members of a club of 28 nations, some of whom are "more European than others", so to say. It is time the UK started acting more European and stopped sniping from the sidelines. The EU is more heavily supported by smaller countries than larger ones, and the answer is simple: the President of the European Commission is Luxembourgish, the previous one Portuguese. the President of the European Council is Polish, the previous one Belgian. The thing is, it gives the chance for smaller countries to shine on the world stage like they would never be able to if they were independent. 

The larger countries of the south, like Spain and Italy, are also by-and-large pro-EU because they understand the prestige membership brings them. The prosperous and fiscally careful countries of the north and central areas, like Sweden, Denmark, Poland and the Czech Republic, are more sceptical because they also like their freedoms, but none of them would think leaving the EU would solve their problems. The largest countries, like France and Germany, have found it hardest to assimilate to the EU because they have needed to shrink, or at least take on fewer airs of a large country although this is of course very difficult, especially when it seems nobody else is on your side. Just ask Angela Merkel about refugees and the "solidarity" she received. 

Even Greece, the country with the biggest reason to be upset with the EU, does not want to leave. It might want to leave the Eurozone, but most definitely not the EU. So the UK is a little bit like Denmark, and a little bit like Germany. What it needs to do is just relax into its role as a counterbalance to the Eurozone's largest powers and stick up for those countries that wish to remain outside. It needs to engage more, be more understanding and empathetic, and stop thinking everyone should act like them.

Do you really think independence will guarantee self-control? I don't. I can't see how voting to leave a club but having nevertheless to pay membership fees to access it will really make the UK independent. The conditions would remain similar but the UK would not be permitted a say in any matters. Furthermore, it will take years to undo all that constitutional paperwork.

Which brings me on to...

The UK is alone and isolated in EU negotiations? Rubbish. The UK has had a great deal to say about the EU and its workings. 

  • For one thing, the UK was central in introducing the call for tender system known as TED to allow for a more simplified and equitable EU-wide system of provision of goods and services so any company anywhere can bid for a supply contract. 
  • The UK, as the largest non-Eurozone member state, is the de facto leader of the outside pack and recently negotiated more rights for those wishing not to join the Euro. 
  • The actual running of some of the EU institutions has in recent years become much more familiar to British civil servants than to French ones. The streamlining of administrative processes, the cutting of costs and bureaucracy, the accountability of every job posting, the justification of every business journey made, the pricing of every cup of coffee poured in an EU building... everything in the EU institutions is accounted for, down to the limitation of photocopies for language trainers. 
  • Furthermore, English is the prevalent language these days, and French is now a more and more distant second. German is waiting in the wings to be promoted if the UK leaves the EU. And English will, in one night, become obsolete as the Lingua Franca of the EU. It will lose its status as the working language of the EU institutions, and French, German and probably Polish or Spanish will get a much bigger role to play in the EU.
  • There are disproportionately more British (and Irish) staff in managerial positions than other nationalities, although due to the geographical position of the EU institutions, French and Belgians make up a large part of the admin staff. In the Court of Auditors, English is the only language and to get a job there it is essential to speak it to a level good enough to work in.
  • In negotiations, the only reason why it seems the UK is isolated is because the UK government really does not get the EU. It acts like a yob in Torremolinos, wanting all the home comforts but without the disadvantages. It was shocking and shameful for me to see my government try to negotiate favourable treatment in the EU and at the same time refuse to play any single part in the Syrian refugee crisis. 

If you really think the UK is hard-done-by it is all smoke and mirrors. The government just needs to stop moaning and get on with teamwork. If you think the EU is a gravy train, try speaking to assistants and administrators in Luxembourg at the bottom of the EU pyramid, where they earn less per month than local bus drivers, gardeners and cleaners. This is because staff in all EU institutions in all cities earn the same, calculated on Brussels salaries.

Finally, the EU is incredibly bad at promoting itself, which is both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, it means it is too busy doing what it is supposed to be doing rather than spending time and money advertising itself - the quiet ones are those who are getting on with the job rather than looking for reward. At the same time, it means people are malinformed and misinformed about the good it does. 

Get informed before you decide.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Think Brexit is a fair vote? Think again...

All of us have an opinion on the current situation regarding the UK's badly-conceived looming referendum on whether they wish to remain part of the EU or not. Sides are being formed and defences are being reinforced ready for the approaching battle. Unfortunately, it seems, even your allies should not be trusted...

David Cameron is a wilier old fox than you would give such a man who, through his parents' riches, never really needed to be talented. Some people say he is a male Margaret Thatcher (but without the balls). I think to view him so favourably to the Iron Lady is to compare suicide by messy drug overdose to a slight fever caused by a dodgy mushroom. He is a very, very cheap imitation of her, and just a sponsored high-ranking civil servant who has obviously been promised a cushy job or two on a few boards of directors once he leaves politics.

Anyhow, he seems to have continued that tradition of saying one thing while doing another. Think I'm being paranoid? Let's see the facts:

1. They'll take anyone's vote
Read this little beauty from the Guardian, which has arrived just in time for the referendum. In essence, it says that anyone not from the EU who wishes to remain in the country needs to earn over £35,000 to do so. It is a perfect vote-grabber. How do we stop so many of our good friends from Australia and Canada being kicked out? We vote for Brexit. Then we'll kick all the Poles and Lithuanians out and keep the Anglophones. See this in the news much? No. After the Tories' conduct in the general election, where every single vote counted, this is another one of those little toppers-up. Commonwealth citizens can vote in the election, so this is sure to help gain a few tens of thousands to the cause.

2. They'll upset a few people
To get the President of the United States to come to your country and tell everyone you are going to the back of the queue (a British word), is to get up the nostrils of hundreds of thousands of people who think it's none of his business. Forget those who are persuaded by him - this is about gaining numbers on the "no" side.

3. They'll make it harder for those likely to vote "in" to do so
The referendum takes place during Glastonbury and the European Football Championships, thus thousands of young people, who are more likely to vote "in" will unfortunately be away. Furthermore, the government recently changed the way people can vote - before the last general election, the PM thought it was a good idea to cancel the previous system of automatic registration, and introduce a process whereby newcomers and those who reach 18 have to consciously register. Out go several thousand more potential voters.

4. They'll put a lot of people off voting so many times in a short period
If my theory is right, there is one way to test it - the Scottish elections are coming up, as are the London elections, the Northern Irish and Welsh Assembly elections, the Police Commissioner elections, and the local government elections in England. They take place on 5th May. Election fatigue will set in when immediately after those, the EU referendum campaign really kicks off and people will be so fed up by 23rd June that there will be very few who will really feel like voting. Except, of course, those who are really passionate about it, which would be almost entirely made up of Brexiteers... there go some more potential voters.

5. They'll play to Pro-independence Scots - without lifting a finger
I can see it now - while they're upsetting a lot of Brits by getting Obama in on the act, they can also recruit hundreds of thousands of Scots by dropping a few verbal bombs on life after Brexit. And they don't need a Tory to do it for them... Nicola Sturgeon said she would think it almost certain that a new push for independence will be sought if there was a vote in favour of leaving the EU. How convenient. It is therefore in the interest of as many as 1.6 million people who voted to leave the UK in 2014 to vote Brexit and then trigger a second Scottish referendum almost immediately. What will be the result? The Scots will declare independence, apply to remain in the EU, as might the Welsh and Northern Irish, and the English will unilaterally leave both the UK and the EU.

6. They don't really care about your country
If those seeking the UK's withdrawal from the EU had patriotism in mind, they would be wise to remember that an awful lot of Scots, Welsh, Northern Irish and indeed English, don't think they do. In fact, I personally think it is all to do with money. England would become a test ground for extreme neo-liberal policy experiments. Where better than the home of the world's banks where nearly every commodity has been privatised and the National Health Service and education system are ripe for a sell-off? If you can't see the stitch-up here, then you undoubtedly see the goodness in everyone, even a Tory...

So before you put your cross on the "Leave" side of the ballot paper, just remember this: what will be the true cost of Brexit? All the propaganda about saving money is phoney. You will not save money, and if you did, it will be minuscule - you won't even notice the difference. You think a Tory government is going to invest the money in the country? Don't make me laugh! They will invest it in their cronies and back-slapping maties in the City of London.

Project Fear, as it has been dubbed, is just that, but it is focusing on the wrong things. The UK is a testing ground for the future of democracy. They are importing Viktor Orban's style of garnering votes and many are being hoodwinked by it. Don't be fooled - if you genuinely are tired of the EU and its decadencies, vote "Remain" and ask for - no, demand - reforms. But fight from the inside!