2018: THINGS TO BE CHEERFUL ABOUT?

Happy New Year everyone.   As we approach a brand new, fresh year I am hoping that some things may happen to give me some optimism for the future. But I am struggling to foresee anything that might work that magic?

I won’t look to this UK government to suddenly wake up, look around them and see what an utter mess this country is in.  To pick one area where they could help, the NHS, they have cancelled all non-essential operations for January – apparently it is NOT in crisis!!??  Then there is the 3.4% fare rise on our railways whilst earnings have not risen sufficiently to make this hike affordable.  Let’s not forget poverty, how could we forget that the past Christmas saw more homeless children than ever before.  Which takes us nicely onto the lack of affordable housing whilst around 610,123 homes remain empty in England; 31,884 in Scotland and 23,131 in Wales.

Image # 3

I won’t look to the environment as we leave a year riddled with extreme weather.  The fingerprints of climate change experienced throughout 2017 have featured supercharged storms, hurricanes, floods and heatwaves through to bushfires. 2017 has seen it all.

So I’ll move onto world peace or the lack of it.  With the crisis in Gaza, the rise of Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria and the international stand-off ongoing in Ukraine, it can sometimes feel like the whole world is at war.  And experts believe this is actually almost universally the case, according to a think-tank which produces one of the world’s leading measures of “global peacefulness” – things are only going to get worse.  Out of 162 countries covered by the Institute for Economics and Peace’s latest study says that just 11 countries were not involved in conflict of one kind or another.

Never again War

Without even mentioning Donald Trump or North Koreait is looking like a rather bleak year that we are entering.  Yes, little babies are fantastic and wonderfully full of potential but what sort of world will they grown up in?  The planet upon which we live is beautiful and nature is wonderful but human beings are working hard to pollute it.  Technology is a whole other bag of worms offering some potential advantages and some threats with multi-national companies in charge of whole banks of knowledge about us.  We must not walk blindfold into this brave new world.  If I have depressed you, I am sorry, and beg you to reply to this Blog with some ideas about 2018 that may cheer us up?

Self Portrait

PS.  What a shame these images by my favourite printmaker, Kathe Kollwitz, still resonates nearly a hundred years after they were created.

Riot

 

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THE GREAT EUROPEAN DISASTER?

On Sunday 1st March 2015 a programme called ‘The Great European Disaster Movie’ was broadcast on BBC 4 and followed by a ‘Newsnight Debates’ programme with newly floppy-haired Robert Peston. 

Following those programmes, there has been massive wringing of hands, predictably, from UKIP who have complained (unsubstantiated) that the film was EU funded, and schadenfreude from political journalists like Peter Hitchens.  Undoubtedly the future looks bleak for the great European dream that began on March 28th 1957 with high hopes and the signing of the ‘Treaty of Rome’.  It is worth reminding ourselves, I think, of a little bit of European history which is often overlooked.  It is called the ‘Werner Report’ and it illustrates that The British Government was never hood-winked into signing up to a secret idea of Europe that they were unaware of – the only people deceived  were the poor British public.

 In 1970 British Prime Minister Edward Heath’s government applied to join the Common Market, the same year that Pierre Werner’s confidential report began circulating in Brussels. The Council of Ministers had commissioned the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Pierre Werner, to draw up a plan to move the Common Market forward to full economic and monetary union, possibly also including a common defence policy, and Werner’s recommendation was that this should be achieved quickly, “within a decade”. 

 When secret papers released under the 30-year rule, from the time Mr. Edward Heath was the British Prime Minister, the most striking of these documents were those reflecting the Heath Government’s reaction to that report. Apparently, what alarmed the Foreign Office was not the contents of the Werner Report. On the contrary, Mr Heath and his ministers did not throw up their hands in horror and say “good heavens, we had no idea this was what the Common Market is about. We could not possibly accept such a thing”. In fact, when Geoffrey Rippon, the minister in charge of our negotiations, went to see M. Werner on October 27, the minutes of their discussion show that Rippon went out of his way to congratulate him on his report, which he said “well stated our common objectives”.

Privately, Her Majesty’s Government had no objection to the political union Werner was proposing. The only real concern of Mr Heath and his colleagues was that this plan should not be talked about too openly in public, because this might so inflame public opinion that it would be much harder to persuade Parliament and the British people that it was in their interests to join what they were being assured was no more than a ‘common market’, intended to boost trade.

When these documents were released in 2001, these details were confirmed by a retired Foreign Office official Sir Crispin Tickell, who had played an intimate part in Britain’s Common Market negotiations as Geoffrey Rippon’s private secretary and was present at the meeting with Werner. In a BBC interview Tickell frankly admitted that, although worries over Britain’s loss of sovereignty had been “very much present in the mind of the negotiators”, the line had been “the less they came out in the open the better”.

 Here was chapter and verse showing how politicians and civil servants had been party to a quite deliberate attempt to hide from the British people what Britain’s entry into the Common Market was letting them in for.  From the very beginning, the British government’s involvement with the “European project” introduced an element of deliberate deceit into the politics of this country. To anyone who follows such matters in detail, nothing is more striking than the way, again and again, we see supporters of Britain’s participation in this project apparently having to resort to obfuscation and subterfuge, both to disguise what the project is really about and to hide what they themselves are up to. And the fundamental reason for this culture of concealment is that there have always been two quite different perceptions as to the nature of this European project.

 For 40 years British politicians have consistently tried to portray it to their fellow-citizens as little more than an economic arrangement: a kind of free-trading area primarily concerned with creating jobs and prosperity, which incidentally can help preserve the peace. This is the lie, founded on deceit, that is now pedalled by such decent and upright people as Nigel Farage (who by the way has no scruples in taking EU money himself) and Peter Hitchens whose fantasy world of a perfect Britain standing alone, out of Europe – proud and independent, is only a product of his fevered brain. 

 But ultimately this culture of concealment derives from that same basic act of deception, the pretence that the nature of the ‘European project’ is something different from what it is. Is it too much to ask for honesty now in British politics and political journalism?

 What does Britain want from membership of the European Union now? 

Most other EU countries are committed to the union, and are prepared to work for that dream of closer harmony.  If Britain isn’t, then they should leave and go it alone.  But I personally fear for what will happen to the United Kingdom if that is what they decide to do.