Monday, 20 March 2017

Eve of Article 50?

R4 in the last 40 minutes: state of the Roads, Social Care crisis (not enough workers who can't be paid for anyway) and the fearsome process of Brexit. Surprise news to the fanatics you cannot simply "leave the EU". It is will be an intricate and very time consuming process. Not on R4 but our secondary school has written to us soliciting voluntary contributions to running costs (not some nice appeal for a new rowing boat or the like), part of the debate about how many schools are losing out in funding. Meanwhile there is a local scandal for one secondary which had until days ago a boarding wing. This has abruptly closed and some pupils who already lived 35 miles away have had it suggested by the County that they might consider Peterlee!!!! Crass, crass. As for the roads, my trip to Shildon has enough to say about that, especially the road to Scales Cross from Branch End. So what is this ramble about? Yes, I think signing Article 50 ought to be delayed. Perhaps we do need another election, although I can see many challenges in that. But the big truth, one May's predecessors have been trying to set out: Brexit now would be a folly. I have no doubts it imperils the British union (and those who say Brexit would be worth that are fools: better if they campaigned for England to leave the UK). But what we really need now as a nation is politicians of most colours willing to face down the idiots, fess up to the terrible process Brexit has been, and say that was a big mistake. Let us not dig the hole any deeper. Steady the ship and deal with real challenges rather than largely imagined ones. I am sure the shock of Brexit is such that some effective renewal of EU membership on terms that do accommodate real and valid concerns would be possible and in EVERYONE's interest here and on the Continent. Representatives of democracy do YOUR JOB and do not let popularism rule for that is not British Democracy.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Remembrance Sunday 2016

Today I watched the Cenotaph service (who would want my germs?). As the years pass, I feel more and not less compelled by it all. Thanks to daughter I am watching Netflix's The Crown. Claire Foy and Matt Smith carry their character's off so convincingly. To see on the real screen today so many stories. I am glad Corbyn seems to have GOT IT. Dressed in a black suit and with his lips moving to the National Anthem. Service is about putting self aside, the essence of Christ's preaching and of remembrance. What a world gathering. Being British is not about being "white", that is not what the British Empire and its Commonwealth taught. And to those who would disagree whether of the left or the right, the Cenotaph service denies you. Men and women of all creeds and colours from around the world united in Whitehall. A person watcher's dream. The Queen as inscrutable and professional as ever. Some of the other Royals revealing a mite more? Did Charles look baffled? Did the Duke see the past generations of naval men he had known including Mountbatten? Sadiq Khan and Boris Johnson a couple of bodies apart. Prime Minister's past and present, party leaders, but no Nigel Farage to represent God knows how many million, because he is meeting Trump. Now is'nt that weird? That the interim leader of most of our MEPs and with the allegiance of many millions of our nation was not there. And this moves my thinking. What an extra-ordinary year! The Tories lose London, the Brits vote for Brexit and Trump is US President Elect. Would you have bet on all three a year ago? This is a time of momentous change and none of us can really feel safe about where it is going. But for my money one of the most pressing questions posed by today is what is the meaning of Farage meeting Trump and omitting the Cenotaph? In what sense are you a serious person to do this? Is that about stealing nations? Or is it just the accidental froth of the pace of the moment? (It would seem that this year, as last, Farage was not invited. Own goal I think.)

Tuesday, 1 November 2016


If you follow my facebook roundabout this upload in time, you will see Fiona and I spent a short break in the Netherlands (number 8 visit for me) in late October 2016. I revisited places like Arnhem and Zutphen I had only been to once before in July 1971. On another level we have through 2016 been referring to Devolution in the UK and how the North East having been on the verge of a seven authority deal spat the dummy out. Currently in October the news is that Newcastle probably with the support of North Tyneside and Northumberland will go it alone. They will have a brand the Great North City (playing on the Great North Run and the Great North Exhibition (to come for 2018)). Now I must tweak this. The North East is not going to be able to do better than Manchester or even Yorkshire. We should go for what is uniquely us and is a good a brand as any. The epithet should be The Great Northumbrian City. Northumbria has various interpretations as a good place but the Tourist Board for years stretched from the Cleveland Hills to the Tees and across to the Pennine Watershed. I am good with that. However that means not only the dissenting factions around the Wear but the Tees Valley needs to be the whole entity. And it does, to compete the whole natural geographical region of Tees, Wear and Tyne, we need to unite.

This does all tie back to the Dutch visit. The Randstad. There was a time not many generations ago when the Northumbria I speak of would have outshone the Randstad. There are many comparisons. The actual area involved is not much different, both are maritime facing regions, both contain numerous competing cities. However broadly since the 1950s, one has been in continual decline, the other has gone onto steroids. I might suggest each extreme is unpleasant. I can see why for many Dutch the ferry from Ijmuiden is to the promised land, we experienced the opposite a week ago. Our open Pennine landscapes fringing the cities, our rocky environment is magical to the outsider. As I did on Saturday to come into the Tyne, take the coach connection into the heart of Newcastle and then the train to Prudhoe is an inspirational ride and the Dutch can understand that.

A lot of the Netherlands is not in The Randstad. Our short break went well beyond it, only Monday and Friday crossed the Randstad and when we did we saw very impressive modern building, yes, but also a  nightmare vision of what development on steroids means. The mass motorways, the railway and metro building, you have to see it to believe it. It is awe inspiring.

I may not want the Randstad for Northumbria and I doubt Northumbrians would but where is there scope to pitch in the middle? I am convinced as plans currently afoot for a Great North Institute in Newcastle suggest, that part of the solution is to understand how the North East exercised genius in the past. A genius which with both the steam and the electric locomotive we exported to the Netherlands. But there is something we can and must learn from the Dutch and which currently the North East with its warring factions is hopeless about. It is understanding that design, detail and integration all matter.

The header photo from Zutphen was of a delicious example of public art on a quayside of a tributary of the Rhine. A simple hydraulic structure to be played with which captures the essence of Dutch genius, hydraulic engineering. Set in an appropriate context, the old quays of a Hanseatic town with a busy railway and barge carrying river behind. The Dutch still try to use all modes of transport appropriately. Who would imagine now that goods should be shipped from Blaydon? Even shipped from Blaydon to Tees-side. We have got right out the habit, even though it is good to say the new North Yorkshire Moors Potash mega mine will ship from the Tees. But we were as good at the transport habit as the Dutch remain, we have to recover it.

Time and again in my blog and on my Facebook, for years now, I have berated the lack of progress with North East public transport. So utterly different to the Randstad. I accept that the devolution plan has itemised many of the items I speak up for but until the devolution is delivered nothing happens. What has been done lately? The A1 Western Bypass upgrade. What a lash up! Destroy the hard shoulders, lanes that vary in width. Ignore every piece of common sense in fast road design when there was a hill through which a tunnel could be driven and through traffic sent through. Lobley Hill. Not difficult. Name the road tunnels of the North East? Three I think: Cradlewell and Tyne 1+2. The Dutch in their flat landscape build tunnels without blinking (TBH they spend vast amounts of money doing it and create much employment).

But leave the infrastructure. For years we have talked about an Oyster card for the North East. The Dutch have had one for years, the OV Chipkaart. We used it for all our travel. And at the smallest detail, in Arnhem, the litter bins wear welly boots. And a city of 70,000 people boasts a two year old library which leaves Newcastle standing. Newcastle's new library is nice, but go to Arnhem's and you will be awestruck. Now much of this difference is because between the Dutch and the Brits for 30 years there has been a pretty large gulph over public society. Our local authorities have been hammered. There have been business successes, Nissan and Port of Tyne prove this.

However unless public authorities can be trusted and given resource, unless the bus companies can be told when and where buses will run, how they will connect with trains (for which Prudhoe is the most laughable example (and so is a new councillor endorsed walking leaflet from Stocksfield station which makes no mention of the train service)), until we can get the North East connected up and given clout to argue its case, the divide and rule which the sceptic will assume is government policy or at least Mandarin think, will remain.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Article 50

At what point is the tipping point reached and the UK government has to admit the referendum was just the silliest thing ever and that no-one will sign article 50 on the back of it? I say that having listened to a spread of news this morning. Matters did not go well for May at the Eu summit. They simply did not go, she got 5 minutes at 1am and not a leader responded. Sky News says 49% of Brits think May does not know how to leave the EU, 34% think she does have a plan. The Poles our usual allies are essentially warning us not to make fools of ourselves. French leaders like Juppe are warning us we can have all the migrants who wish to cross the Channel. It is our treasury saying as starkly as they have said all along, leave the EU and our ports and economy will be chaos. I just heard Anna Soubry Tory saying sausages to the immigration issue, we just have to stay in the single market. What happened this summer will not go away, it was a dreadful Tory created farce and I remain so glad I refused to dignify it. And I am getting more bullish that so far from having to accept the day when we leave the EU (about which bits of me will rejoice), I am more likely to see the day that Britain has to totally back off the whole withdrawal business. You may detect in me a contradiction, at heart I am a leaver but the pragmatist in me which realises prosperity is key has consistently said the process was a farce. Here we are four months from the vote and can you tell me there is a sensible route to leaving the EU, remaining in the market, controlling immigration and saving LOTS of money to spend in the UK? That is what Leave promised, tell me now how it is going to happen? And if you really don't have a clue, be man enough to tell your MP like Guy Opperman, we've made a big mistake.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Max Adams

A speedy U turn . I think what party conference season has revealed is that NONE of the UKIP, Labour or Tory conferences know what to do with the situation Brexit has caused. Cameron claimed it would solve the matter once and for all. At every level he has been proved so wrong. #HIGNFY chair on Friday Nick Clegg was the one man who could have saved his bacon and the electorate utterly humiilated him in 2015. He seemed in good form though. Yesterday Max Adams in Carlisle set the context as being a perpetual yin/yang relationship brought about by our rocky marginal status. He did contend that within our islands, regional identity is more meaningful than national. Being Welsh, British, Irish, English or Scottish means less than being Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, a Norfolkman, a Gallowvidian, an Ulsterman. I get that and I can claim at least the last three. But how do we go forward? It is not "all our fault". Europe has not helped itself or us. In the context Adams spoke off, the loss of control over borders has been a perpectual theme. The Anglo Saxons were appalled at how their relatively civilised order could be snuffed out by the Normans. I do warn against the spoken violence now widespread in British politics and hope it will not turn into physical violence. In a different age the murderer of Jo Cox would have received far swifter and decisive justice to have warned all that violence is abhorrent. But each of these points, Romans, Vikings, Normans, the Reformation, Napoleon, Nazis, the EU has had a different shading. Our moment comes when the power of social media, a new type of mob, is in the ascendent and whose effect we are experimenting with.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Faith Schools

A Tory government with a slim majority is not going to allow that to get in the way of an active and controversial education agenda. Grammar schools are not the only issue, so is allowing faith schools to recruit 100% by faith! It seems we in the UK will not learn good sense. I am not a fan of faith schools, however I can live with them in a way I cannot live with fee paying private schools. But I cannot live with faith schools who create a corral. The only purpose of religion today is that of expansive goodness, of offering hope and understanding. Even as far as teaching people how to be decent with no certainty of an afterlife. I am sure Jesus would teach that if on earth today. I am sure Jesus would applaud meritocracy and not the choice money can allow. It would not surprise me if Jesus could understand streaming in schools so long as merit was the only criterion. I doubt Jesus would endorse any faith school founded on exclusion. I doubt Jesus would look kindly on any religion that continues to practice child abuse (think of all the examples of this of old and new - Castrati, Circumcision, priestly abuse, it is not one religion in the firing line, it is many ( I think that perhaps the Sikhs and the Buddhists may be safe?)). So religions including the Christian Church have a terrible history to be ashamed of and then they want to campaign to create exclusive faith schools. This is madness, the folly of it is writ all over Ireland, it is a road that creates ghettos. It is a folly that enslaves children in the name of God, creating either conformity or the immense pain of defiance. Sensible progressive people of any faith or none would not want to structuralise this in future British society and I find my willingness to be positive about our new prime minister very strained. Brexit is a very important matter one might think absorbing of all the efforts for the foreseeable?

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

MOAS off the Libyan Coast

We start with a link to a hard hitting Sky story. It is not unfamiliar. Thousands of migrants headed for almost certain death off the coast of Libya unless the West intervenes and rescues them, which it does. The policy of a few years ago, which was minimum intervention, let people drown to discourage others being unacceptable to the public. Was it an effective deterent? I don't know. I want to blog because I can see a solution to this very difficult topic.

The Sky story was clear, almost all those rescued would not be recognised as refugees, they would be classed as economic migrants, most from West Africa. As such once taken to Italy and in a process of about a year (spent in open camps) they should be returned home. What a pointless exercise. Although it is rather worse than this. Many will walk out to "freedom". As such they will become illegals and have to exist on the margins of European society. Even worse a number will thereby be drawn into criminality and perhaps be trafficked and at an extreme level effectively become sex slaves. This is documented.

Back at home, the countries they leave will be impoverished by the loss of the dynamic talent that was able to get itself across the Sahara. The same counties will be impoverised too by the money which pays for this trade and goes to essentially criminal gangs who at heart have no interest whatsover in helping the people who pay them. It is in so many ways a terrible example of multi layered human exploitation right from the initial idea that these people think it worthwhile to try to make the journey which for probably the clear majority will end in tragedy, or utter frustation and definitely the loss of money.

So how can this flow be managed? It must certainly not be allowed to succeed. People cannot be allowed to expect to live whereever they want. Proper political refugees are a different matter. Economic migrants are utterly mistaken to assume that apart from the criminal fraternity that coming to Europe will bring recompense and a golden life.

What would be a humanitarian way to deal with this? Yes, we must rescue those in the Mediterranean. And we must discover those who put them there and punish them most firmly. But the error that is being made is to bring these people to open camps in Italy. The destination of those rescued needs to be floating camps using hired in liners docked in locations where escape into Europe is impossible. The mistake is made the moment economic migrants are allowed to set foot in Europe without arriving through proper process. From these floating camps with no prospect of escape, these migrants can then be returned whence they came in a humane fashion. The fruitlessness of this excursion once it becomes clear will become the most effective deterent at stopping people from risking all in this nightmare way.