Posted by: aboutalbion | February 28, 2017

EU referendum vote (11)

It seems that insider accounts of the EU referendum campaigns point to some uncomfortable conclusions.  There seems general agreement that Tim Shipman’s account is the place to start.  [Tim Shipman (2016) All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class.  Collins.]

First, it is clear that the Prime Minister’s view that the referendum debate would be all about jobs and the economy (and that his approach to this topic would prevail) was a mistake.

Second, it is clear that the ‘Vote Leave’ slogan of “£350 million a day for the NHS” connected emotionally with undecided voters (and seemed to answer concerns about jobs and the economy).  At the time of the campaign, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority described this NHS claim as potentially misleading in correspondence with ‘Vote Leave’.  It is noteworthy that key people of the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign have now re-named themselves ‘Change Britain’, dropped the NHS claim, and now claim the EU budget savings  are available to support “continued funding for farming, science, universities and poorer regions of the UK”.

Third, there is the strong suspicion (articulated by Alan Duncan) that Boris Johnson secretly wanted Britain to stay in the EU and that he just wanted the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign to lose narrowly.  For him, such an outcome would allow him to position himself as the heir apparent to the Prime Minister, and at the same time enable the Prime Minister to seek further concessions from the EU.

To my mind, these kinds of conclusions help me to understand that the actual referendum on Thursday, 23 June 2016, was a choice between reality and fantasy.  And somehow, fantasy won … narrowly.

Against those who subsequently have claimed that the result was clear and decisive, it should be noted that the ‘Vote Leave’ director, Dominic Cummings, has referred to the referendum outcome as “the close result”.

I have also noted that Sir Alan Duncan (currently a Foreign Office Minister working under Boris Johnson) has warned that the UK is entering “a period of deep instability and uncertainty”.  [And this view has been echoed in recent days by two former Prime Ministers using more colourful language.]

So if fantasy is the order of the day, what about the United States becoming the next associate member of the Commonwealth of Nations?

Are reports of this future development fantasy … or the way forward?  Why shouldn’t the US eventually join this informal grouping of 53 nations (only 16 of which have the Queen as head of state) in order to advance its interests?  And, for that matter, why shouldn’t the UK encourage some European states (who want to) to join the Commonwealth of Nations?  What if …?

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Posted by: aboutalbion | January 29, 2017

Poetry

A chance reading of someone else’s newspaper this weekend brought this poem to my attention.  I am glad to have read what seems to be regarded as one of the poet’s signature works.

REMEMBER

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894)

Posted by: aboutalbion | December 21, 2016

2016 … a very short review of my year

I wish all who read this post the very best for the coming year of 2017.

In one sense nothing much has changed for me, but in another sense I feel that a lot has changed.

My children’s news can perhaps be summarised first.  One daughter’s school enjoyed a “Good” rating at a recent OFSTED inspection.  Another daughter’s son has made a smooth transition to starting primary school.  And my third daughter and her family relocated from Kuala Lumpur to Houston Texas over the summer, and her children have places at a British School there.  I keep in touch with all of them as often as I can.

Last year’s Christmas exchanges included an invitation to visit an old school friend in north Devon.  And in the spring, I found a GWR train to convey me to Barnstaple before noon.  I spent a most enjoyable day with him and his wife, including a walk to view the River Taw estuary.  Later, in the summer, I was pleased to welcome a distant relative on my mother’s side (and her husband) for a meal and a ‘catch up’.  They were on vacation from their home in the south of France.

One of the opportunities of living not too far from a teaching hospital is participation in medical research studies.  And this year, I have added participation in chronic kidney disease research to participation in Parkinson’s disease research.  Both research groups want to look at me in a non-invasive sort of way at occasional intervals.  Recently, one of these groups strapped a small movement recorder to the bottom of my spine for a week, and then I went inside an MRI scanner for the other group.

In my retirement ‘village’, I am just coming to the end of my allotted three years as Secretary of the residents association.  I have enjoyed the challenges of this role that have come my way, but I shall be relieved to be able to clear away (and take possession of) a large corner of one of my rooms.

My other volunteer roles have continued.  With the local children’s hospice, I have now passed my MIDAS test and have joined the pool of volunteer drivers.  And at the local theatre, I have enjoyed ushering for all the main shows.  For the Shakespeare anniversary, there was a memorable production of “King Lear”.  And perhaps because theatre goers are also cinema goers, I have (as an usher going rather bald) collected some comments this year from people of all ages that I am the splitting image of the film actor J K Simmons (the overbearing jazz band conductor in “Whiplash”).  When I looked him up online, I had to agree that some images do resemble …

I have had two politico-religious experiences this year.  I woke up on 24 June to find I was living in another country, and I woke up on 9 November to find I was living in another world.  On both occasions I was in shock for several hours, and then I was surprised at how shocked I had been.  My own study of the nature of history has taken me away from the ‘great man’ theory and towards underlying social and economic forces.  I am inclined to think that Farage and Trump represent underlying forces which are beyond their personal control.

May the spiritual mystery at the heart of creation give us all peace in the year to come …

Posted by: aboutalbion | November 30, 2016

EU referendum vote (10)

I am dismayed that the UK’s Prime Minister is continuing to believe that she can avoid affirming the sovereignty of Parliament in the matter of ‘triggering Article 50’.

As many have noted, her behaviour is reminiscent of a medieval monarch who believes that the referendum result enables her well-developed sense of the ‘divine right of monarchs’ to proclaim that she has a divine mandate to act without involving Parliament.

I expect her appeal next week to the Supreme Court to be dismissed, and I expect the Supreme Court to affirm the sovereignty of Parliament.

If her Article 50 plan is subverted by the Supreme Court, it will be within a system that can be presumed to be familiar to her.  I am wondering how I can have confidence in her (as yet) undisclosed plan to negotiate the ‘best possible’ deal for the UK in a European milieu which may well be not quite so familiar to her.

Posted by: aboutalbion | October 31, 2016

Quotation

“They are playing a game.  They are playing at not playing a game.  If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me.  I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game.”

[R D Laing (1972) Knots.  New York: Random House.]

Posted by: aboutalbion | September 30, 2016

EU referendum vote (9)

I approve of Mr Justice Cranston’s decision in the High Court this week to order the skeleton arguments of both sides in the forthcoming hearing (scheduled to begin on Thursday 13 October) to be put into the public domain.  The public were invited to fully participate in the referendum, and I see no good reason for the public to be locked out of the build-up to the first round of the ‘civil war’ that follows the ‘leave’ vote.

The ‘People’s Challenge’ will argue that the Sovereignty of Parliament means that a vote in the Houses of Parliament is needed to authorise the Prime Minister to trigger the formal leave-taking from the EU (by invoking Article 50).  The Government will argue that there remain discretionary powers in the hands of the Crown, the so-called Royal Prerogative, which the Prime Minister can exercise without a vote on a statute in the Houses of Parliament.

In favour of the ‘People’s Challenge’ is the ceaseless consolidation over recent centuries of the doctrine of the Sovereignty of Parliament.  In favour of the Government’s argument is the absence of the use of an authorising statute which could be repealed by a later vote in Parliament, and a corresponding reliance that no future Prime Minister would allow a vote to re-join the EU (if indeed the EU survives).

Blackstone’s opinion in the eighteenth century suggested that the Royal Prerogative was limited to an action that no other person in the UK could take … and he had in mind the dissolution of Parliament.  Dicey’s opinion in the nineteenth century suggested that the Royal prerogative was the exercise of discretion by the Crown wherever statute didn’t prohibited it.

Whatever the High Court decision, I feel that leave to appeal to the higher courts needs to be given because the issues at stake in the reception and understanding of the referendum result are so foundational to our understanding that we live in a ‘rule of law’ society.

Posted by: aboutalbion | August 29, 2016

Chocolate Korma Gateau

When I was asked to engineer a special cake recently, I began to think of an adventure in the kitchen … and I wondered if tongues would dance with a combination of chocolate and curry … and with desiccated coconut throughout.

The moist chocolate sponge is surrounded by a korma flavoured buttercream.  You might even think about serving this interesting gateau with coconut ice-cream.

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The quantities here will make two 20 cm [8 in] sponges for a double layer gateau.

SPONGES

350 g self-raising FLOUR
80 g COCOA powder
2 t BAKING powder
½ t SALT
250 g caster SUGAR
50 g desiccated COCONUT

180 g vegetable OIL
480 g WATER
2T cider VINEGAR
2t VANILLA extract

FROSTING

250 g BUTTER (fridge cold)
500 g ICING SUGAR
3 t korma CURRY powder
2 T MILK
150 g desiccated COCONUT

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 190C.  Line (base and side) two 20 cm [8 in] ‘spring form’ sponge tins.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the sponges.  Make a well in the centre, and add the wet ingredients for the sponges.  With a large spoon, slowly stir from the centre [pancake method] gradually incorporating ever more dry ingredients into the mixture … until only a few lumps remain.  Use a hand whisk (or electric whisk) for a few seconds to disperse these lumps.

Divide the batter equally between the two sponge tins and bake for around 30 minutes (until the tops spring back to your touch).

Allow the sponges to cool completely in their tins, before turning them out.

To make the frosting, dice the cold butter into a large mixing bowl.  Whisk the butter until it is soft.  After mixing the curry powder into the icing sugar, gradually add (through a sieve) the curried icing sugar to the butter (whisking between each addition).  Add carefully just enough milk until the frosting is soft and spreadable.  Now stir in the coconut (and carefully use a little more milk, if necessary, to make the frosting pliable).

Turn one sponge upside down for the base layer, and use a palette knife to spread an even layer of korma buttercream over it.  Crown this with the second sponge, and use a palette knife to spread the remaining korma buttercream all over the top and side to compose the gateau.  Dust the top of the gateau with a little cocoa powder to finish.  Place the gateau in a fridge until a short time before serving.

Posted by: aboutalbion | July 31, 2016

EU referendum vote (8)

I prefer to go to bed early these days … so when I voted to ‘Remain’ in the EU on referendum day, I felt very sure that I would wake up the following day with the UK’s relationship with the EU unchanged.

I was shocked at the referendum outcome on the Friday morning … and then surprised.  I was surprised at how shocked I felt …  I felt as though I had woken up in a different country to the one I had gone to sleep in the night before.  And that feeling that the UK is a different country still persists even now … even though it is more than five weeks since the vote.

The administrative civil service continues its work, but the politicians around the Cabinet table have (mostly) changed.  The new team of government ministers are now quietly spending the summer creating a new narrative of what has happened and what they would like to see happen next.

If the EU was viewed as a continental economic building block in the formation of a world government, then the referendum vote can be seen as a withdrawal from this aspirational project.  If the EU was seen as a ‘rich man’s club’, then the referendum vote was a protest by the many at being left behind by the few.

As I see it, the challenge for policy makers now is to create a fresh sustainable strategy for the UK that avoids civil war.

Posted by: aboutalbion | June 22, 2016

EU referendum vote (7)

Tomorrow is voting day, and this post will indicate the way I shall vote.

I have found the nature of this prolonged referendum debate disappointing, and my inclinations about voting have not been consistent.

I find both sides have preferred to inhabit fantasy-role play scenes.  A common question on the ‘Leave’ side has been, ”If we were outside the EU, would we vote to join the EU now?”.   On the ‘Remain’ side, the assertion has repeatedly been made that “you will be better off remaining in”, implying a little more pocket money … against a backdrop of the ongoing years of ‘necessary’ austerity measures.

I find that both sides have declined to offer (and to refer to) a political programme for the remainder of this five year Parliament.  This lack of detail about the immediate political future seems to me to affect both sides.  The ‘Leave’ side, manifestly not a united ‘party’ (not even on the type of trade deal to be sought with the EU single market), are asking the electorate to sign a blank cheque.  The ‘Remain’ side, while relying on a vote to maintain ‘business as usual’, seem to me to have missed an opportunity to signal how concerns about immigration will be addressed.

I find that both sides have been unrealistic about the influence of the UK in the world, and about the associated security of the UK (especially for refugees).  As far as I can make out, neither side has mentioned the agency that launched a successful lethal nuclear strike on a UK resident in 2006.  I can’t recall either side referring to the need for a forceful response after the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko.

I find that both sides have misrepresented the “control” concept.  I find that both sides have overstated the degree of “control” they would like (or have) because both sides have conveniently forgotten to mention that the UK has a significant national debt to UK government bond holders.  In my understanding of the real world, the behaviour of these bond holders exercises constraints on the degree of “control” exercised through the sovereignty of Parliament.  I find myself in agreement with those who say that the decisive vote of these bond holders will be expressed in the days immediately after the referendum vote closes.

I find that both sides are compromised over the status of the referendum.  Both sides seem to me to want to maintain the supremacy of Parliament, and at the same time to want this referendum result to be “irreversible” and binding on Parliament.  To me, these two desires are not compatible.

In 1978, Lord Hailsham [Lord Chancellor 1979-1987] wrote: “Referenda are of different kinds.  In what circumstances is it to be thought proper to have resort to one?  …  Is the referendum to be taken before, or after legislation has passed Parliament?  Is its effect to be conclusive or only advisory?  …  What subjects are to be referable?  Who may set the machinery in motion?  …  I do not claim to be able to answer these questions.  …  What is strange is that there has been practically no discussion as to how, or in what form, the institution [of a referendum] should be systematized.” [1979 (paperback) The Dilemma of Democracy. London, Collins Fount, p176f.]  To my mind, it is foreseeable that a LEAVE vote will be followed by years of constitutional “civil war” over the status of tomorrow’s UK wide referendum.

For myself, I want to protest about the childish way the two sides have conducted themselves.  Left to just myself, I would abstain from this referendum vote.

However, ‘no man is an island’, and I have children and grandchildren.  Tomorrow, with my immediate descendants very much in mind, I shall vote REMAIN in order to avoid the foreseeable “civil war” which the alternative outcome is likely to entail.  But I also wish my vote to be advisory to (and not binding on) Parliament because I do not wish to dilute the sovereignty of Parliament.

And, finally, in voting to stay in the EU tomorrow, I would like my vote to be understood as a vote to stay in the EU until the either France or Germany leaves the EU.  When either of those countries leaves, then that will be the appropriate time for the UK to leave as well.

Posted by: aboutalbion | June 19, 2016

EU referendum vote (6)

As the referendum vote comes near, I join in mourning the death (by ideological murder) of Jo Cox MP last week.  I think the most fitting tribute to the memory of her brief parliamentary career would be for a record-breaking turn-out at the referendum itself – whatever the result.

At the moment I am thinking about the sovereignty of Parliament, and this post is about the status of the forthcoming IN/OUT referendum itself.

I believe that Britain has only held two UK-wide referendums before – in 1975 and 2011.  In other words, the UK practice of holding such a referendum has coincided with the UK’s ‘membership of Europe’ which began with the passing of the European Communities Act 1972.  I’m asking myself whether or not the holding of a referendum is a procedure that comes from mainland Europe.

The status of the forthcoming EU referendum result isn’t clear to me.  Is it advisory to the UK Parliament?  Or is it binding on the UK Parliament?  If the latter, what has happened to the sovereignty of Parliament in this case?

And as campaigning resumes today, I hear unfamiliar voices.

On the ‘Leave’ side, I hear it said that “this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to take back control of our democracy”.  This suggests that the sovereignty of a referendum eclipses the sovereignty of Parliament.

On the ‘Remain’ side, I hear it said that this referendum is an “irreversible” one with “no turning back”.  This suggestion is contrary to the conventions of the sovereignty of Parliament in which all legislation is in principle “reversible”.

Both sides seem to agree that this referendum is about a substantial constitutional issue.  But where does the assumption come from that a simple majority is enough to decide the result?  I incline to the view that something more than a simple majority is required for an alleged “irreversible” decision.

And must the necessary majority emerge from the UK as a whole, or must the necessary majority be present in all the principal regions of the UK?

For me, the sovereignty of Parliament can only be maintained if the referendum next Thursday is advisory to the members of Parliament.  It follows that something like a constitutional crisis will occur if the result of the referendum is not affirmed by subsequent votes in the two Houses of Parliament.

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