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Exit. (England 1-2 Iceland)

Euro 2016, Round of 16, Stade de Nice, 27/6/16.

It’s hard not to think that there’s some sort of karma about this result. After England voting to leave the EU (loosely referred to as Europe) its football team has just departed Europe unwillingly.

The commentator on ITV called it a humiliation and also used the word embarrassment. The unspoken assumption (though it was all but articulated) was that England should always be beating Iceland.

Well; to anyone who had watched Iceland’s group games this was no surprise. Iceland are supremely well organised, the players know what they’re supposed to be doing and play for the team and each other. They drew with Portugal and group winners Hungary and then beat Austria, well fancied before the tournament began. If that wasn’t sufficient warning as to what to expect what would be? Using words such as embarrassment and humiliation is extremely disrespectful to a group of players who work their socks off and have no little ability. I expect France will also find it hard to break them down in the next round.

Iceland know their limitations and strengths, and play to them; as a team. The same was true of Italy earlier in what was a magnificent team performance against Spain.

In this respect it is also hard to resist the temptation to remark that English football commentators have an inflated idea of the worth of their country’s footballers based on club performances. Just reflect, not one of those players is good enough to play for an overseas team. They appear effective at club level only because they are surrounded by foreign players who make them look good. And the clubs of the league they play in have not made too much of a splash in the so-called Champions League of late. (OK, Liverpool made the final of the Europa League this season but that was mostly due to foreigners, manager included.)

England’s most penetrative player tonight was an 18 year old who was only brought on to the pitch when it was far too late and has in any case not yet had the enthusiasm and any latent talent knocked out of him by unwarranted expectation.

Three Days On

When I got downstairs on Friday morning still trying to digest the result of the UK’s referendum on EU membership and the intention to resign of Mr Irresponsible aka Call me Dave aka David Cameron – who may now forever be known as the man who wrecked Britain – the sun was shining (briefly,) the birds were chirping, the bees were humming, so in one sense the vote didn’t matter. The sun will shine (at times) the birds will chirp and the bees hum (well we can hope) under any political circumstances.

But of course it does matter. The UK has been thrown into political turmoil, a rudderless chunk of driftwood at the mercies of whatever vicissitudes the markets and the attitudes of our spurned EU neighbours may put in our way and with both its major political parties internally at odds now that the Parliamentary Labour Party is attempting a putsch.

(I must say it takes a particular political genius, Dave, not only to trash your own personal political future, your place in history and the country’s fortunes with one act of folly but also with the outcome of that same act to throw into sharp relief the divisions between your political opponents such that it is they who make the headlines.)

The only stable political entities within the UK for the foreseeable future are the devolved ones in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast and the likelihood of the last one remaining stable is dubious at best.

But it seems that these devolved assemblies have to agree on EU withdrawal and to consent to the required changes in the Acts which set them up (see articles 70 and 71 of this House of Lords document.) Given that a substantial majority of Scots who voted in the referendum expressed a wish to remain in the EU the Scottish Parliament is unlikely to do this. What a mess.

Today the sun isn’t shining, I can hear no birds chirp nor bees hum. Tomorrow doesn’t belong to me.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Under normal circumstances I would be welcoming the intention of David Cameron (known to this blog as Mr Irresponsible) to resign as Prime Minister of the UK as in my opinion he has been the worst incumbent of that office in its entire history (and there has been severe competition for that title.)

However; these are not normal circumstances. The prospect of either of the leading lights of the Vote Leave campaign, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, succceeding him as PM is beyond nightmare. The direction in which the UK would travel under their auspices is not one I would find at all congenial. That Scotland may be given the chance of another vote on independence from the UK as a result of the EU referendum does not alter that conviction. I would not wish what would then be our nearest neighbour to be under their leadership. It is to be hoped the Conservative Party turns away from them and chooses someone else but quite who is actually up to the job is not evident.

I was going to call David Cameron’s decision to cave in to the bullies’ demands for a referendum a catastrophic misjudgement, but I don’t think he made a judgement at all. Everything in his political life so far has gone his way and he thought that situation would continue. But he is a weak man and has reaped his reward. The verdict of history will be harsh.

And what will happen to that southern neighbour when the promised £350 million a week for the NHS doesn’t appear, when immigration stubbornly refuses to fall, when visas are required to travel to the EU, when jobs fail to be created and employment conditions worsen further, when the anger and resentment which Vote Leave has stoked but whose underlying causes they will neither address nor ameliorate, bursts out? Against whom will that anger be directed and in what form? Anyone who looks different? Who sounds different?

What happens to the fragile peace process in Northern Ireland?

How encouraging will this be to right wingers across Europe? What if the Front National wins power in France and starts to discriminate against Muslims – which they surely will, or worse – enraging those with a grudge against “Europe” even more. You can be sure the likes of ISIS/Da’esh will not make a distinction between French Crusaders and British ones.

The immediate future is going to be immensely troubling. This has no simple outcome. The EU cannot afford to be easy-going on the negotiations which have to take place for a UK withdrawal. If they were it would only provide encouragement to any other country which might think of leaving. In any case what incentive would it have to be lenient to a country which has just slapped it in the face. Divorce proceeding are notorious for their acrimony.

As for the main advocate of the UK leaving the EU these past twenty odd years, Nigel Farage. There is now no reason for his party to exist or for him to appear on television ever again – a consummation devoutly to be wished. There is only one phrase fit for him. Il faut cultiver son jardin.

The Price of Sovereignty

This is where division in and, in the UK’s case, from Europe leads:-

Graves and Memorial Cross, Tyne Cot Cemetery
Tyne Cot Cemetery, Zonnebeeke, Belgium

German War Graves, Langemark, Belgium
Langemark War Cemetery, Langemark-Poelkapelle, Belgium

Mr Irresponsible’s Greatest Folly

Mr Irresponsible, aka Call me Dave, otherwise known as the Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron Esquire, has a lot of idiocies to his name. But surely the largest of these is his utterly obtuse decision to give in to the bullying of his Conservative cohorts and the threat of UKIP to his voting base by first promising and then granting them a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union.

Instead of lancing the boil (he warned his party not to continue to bang on about Europe) his indulgence of their obsession has now unleashed a tide of xenophobia and intolerance, egged on by those who knowingly encourage a false belief that the troubles experienced by various communities up and down the UK are as a result of external forces (the EU,) so-called lack of control (again the EU) or immigrants (supposedly the EU but there are more migrants into the UK from outwith the EU than from inside it – and many Britons living and working in the countries of the EU) rather than the banking crash and the policies his Government has followed ever since its election in 2010. (I know its first five years were in coalition but really it was a Conservative Government in all but name.)

This tide has been growing for years – stoked up by spurious newspaper stories of EU “impositions” and “red tape” and the simplicities of people who claim that the country’s problems have one solution – and has now taken the form of a vicious and intemperate “Vote Leave” campaign which has peddled all sorts of what may be politely called inaccuracies but are in fact downright lies and often strayed close to, if not over, the border of racism.

I know the “Remain” campaign has also given apocalyptic warnings of the consequences of a leave vote, but it has not been whipping up fear of others, nor blatantly arousing expectations which will not (cannot) be fulfilled. Against whom will the anger the “Leave” campaigners have stoked be directed when things do not get better? (Either “in” or “out”, ditching austerity is not on their or David Cameron’s agenda.)

Had I been in any doubt about which way I would vote in Thursday’s referendum the “Vote Leave” television broadcast claiming that the £350 million pounds a week of the UK’s contribution to the EU budget (a large part of which promptly gets sent back anyway) would – in a leave future – be spent on the NHS instead would have made my mind up. These guys have no intention of spending money on the NHS; they want rid of it. They want to privatise everything that moves (and everything that doesn’t.) The worse thing, though, was the highlighting of five Balkan countries said to be on the point of entry into the EU (none of which actually are any time soon) plus Turkey: Turkey! which has been moving ever further away from meeting accession criteria under its present government) and then a series of arrows, leaping, Dad’s Army style, over to Britain. As if every inhabitant of those countries would immediately up sticks and come to the UK as soon as they were given the opportunity. Some may, most will not.

Then there was “Vote Leave”‘s pamphlet – delivered by post – which handily showed Turkey as having borders with Syria and Iraq. Are Syria and Iraq applying for EU membership? I don’t think so. What possible purpose can their inclusion on this map have? (Except to stoke up fears of people from there coming through Turkey – and riding the arrows to Britain.) Well, they’re doing that anyway, as “Leave” well knows and plays on. Yet in their circumstances so would I – and so would every leave campaigner.

The circumstances under which this vote is taking place, the Eurozone under strain, a refugee crisis, a war on Europe’s margins (two if you include Turkey in Europe which geographically part of it is,) render its timing more than unfortunate. It is potentially disastrous.

I really fear that a leave vote will see other countries (but emphatically not those who border Russia) seek to leave the EU. These may even include France if the Front National wins power.

In that case there will certainly be unresolved tensions between France and Germany – and we know where that has led in the past.

What the leave campaigners don’t seem to have grasped, or have deliberately ignored, is that the EU was set up (as the European Coal and Steel Community, then the Common Market) precisely so that France and Germany would never go to war again. That is emphatically in the UK’s national interest, and may be at risk. The writer of this letter to the Guardian knows what is at stake.

Whatever the result on Thursday the passions this referendum seems to have inflamed, at least in England – there has been almost no sign of it taking place at all in the way of posters and window stickers round where I live – will not be stilled easily.

Jo Cox, MP

The attack on and subsequent death of Jo Cox MP is simply appalling.

That an MP should be killed in the course of carrying out her duties to her constituents strikes directly at the heart of representative democracy, especially as by all accounts she seems to have been one of the good ones, not in it for the money or the power but to help others.

Sadly it seems to be exactly that characteristic that has led to her being targeted by her assailant. A bitter testament to the level to which political discourse in the UK has sunk in recent months and the unsavoury attitudes it has engendered.

The greater loss is to her children and family but life in the UK has today lost a kind of innocence.

Helen Joanne “Jo” Cox: 22/6/1974 – 16/6/2016. So it goes.

Libraries Now Doomed

Fife Council has decided to go ahead with the closure of sixteen libraries in the county. This includes three of those closest to me and which I use regularly.

(I note in the newspaper article in the first link above the occurence of the spelling calamatous. Did the author by any chance mean calamitous? Did no one in an editorial capacity notice?)

Fife Libraries Temporary Reprieve

It seems there has been a stay of execution on the threatened Fife Libraries.

The Council’s Scrutiny Committee has apparently rejected the proposals and suggested a one year moratorium to explore possibilities for keeping library services. There will be a meeting this Tuesday (12th Jan) to discuss the closures.

I have fired off emails in support of the campaign against closures to members of the Council committee concerned.

It also looks like I shall have to continue borrowing books…

Ronald vs Donald

I never really thought too much of Ronald Reagan…

But he was an intellectual genius in comparison to one D Trump (whose comments I paraphrase below.)

Ronald Reagan – “Mr Gorbachev. Tear Down this wall!”

Donald Trump – “Build up a wall!”

When Will They Ever Learn?

The UK under Tony Blair followed blindly (hung on the coat-tails?) where the US led in invading Iraq – ostensibly to get rid of weapons of mass destruction (which anybody with the slightest understanding of Saddam Hussein’s psychology knew didn’t exist – though he wanted us, but more especially Iran, to think they did) but really simply to be seen to be doing something about the attacks on the World Trade Center (which Saddam Hussein had not a thing to do with; Al Qaida had no presence in Iraq before the war precisely because he had such a firm grip on things they weren’t allowed one) the operations in Afghanistan not being satisfactory in rooting out Osama Bin Laden, or just possibly to “secure” oil supplies.

Now that all worked out terribly well, didn’t it?

About two years ago some of the blowback from the mistakes of those adventures resulted in a vote in the UK Parliament on bombing Syria. No consensus on such action could be found.

Yesterday, more or less prompted by the murders committed by Isis/Isil/Daesh in Paris, a measure to bomb Syria was passed by that Parliament’s successor. This time, though, the target is different. Not the forces of President Assad, but those of Daesh.

The decision seems to be from the “grab at a false syllogism” school. This goes along the lines of, “The events in Paris were terrible. Something must be done about the perpetrators. Bombing is something. Therefore we must bomb.”

The fact that bombing Syria is against international law, notwithstanding the recent UN resolution, that bombing by near enough everybody else has had absolutely no effect in reducing Daesh’s activities does not seem to count against this argument. The facts that it won’t defeat them, that it won’t make us any safer, that it will only increase their appeal to potential adherents, that such a response is precisely what they look for when planning their atrocities weighed nothing against the apparent need to be seen to be doing something. Anything.

I had to give a hollow laugh when in the run-up to the vote Mr Irresponsible, aka David Cameron, havered on about outsourcing our security to others. If the UK is not outsourcing its security to others why, exactly, is it a member of NATO? (And, as a by-the by, what exactly is the purpose of the nuclear deterrent? France’s Force de Frappe didn’t prevent the Charlie Hebdo attacks nor those of this November. Trident didn’t stop the IRA nor 7/7 bombers.)

He also said that opponents of the bombing were terrorist sympathisers. Language such as that proves once again that the man is unfit to be Prime Minister.

Yes Daesh is a murdering, barbaric organisation utterly antithetical to freedom. But, Mr Cameron. Isn’t it possible conscientiously to think that bombing is a strategic mistake? That it will only encourage Daesh that it has got under our skin? That it will be profoundly counter-productive? That it will cause civilian casualties far in excess of any damage it might do to Daesh? That it will not bring about an end to Daesh? That it will not reassure Muslims in Britain that war is not being waged against their religion? That it makes us even more of a target than we were already? That it can only strengthen the position of the man the original bombing was supposed to help oust?

The history of British interference in the Middle East goes back a long way. The Sykes-Picot Agreement carved the area up between Britain and France, becoming effective after the Great War. In the 1920s the RAF (in Iraq) was the first air-force in the world to bomb indigenous rebels though it’s likely civilians bore the brunt as usual. The UK mandate in Palestine led (in)directly to the formation of Israel. Along with the US Britain was instrumental in removing the Mossadeq regime from Iran in the 1950s. Then there was the chaos we recently left behind in Iraq and contributed to in Libya.

Our politicians seem to have forgotten all this. Unlike them, the locals have long memories.

I can’t see anything good coming out of this at all.

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