My M.P. just got a knighthood….HELP!

So, my M.P. got a gong. I should be celebrating right? I mean, these knighthood-relics from the days of yore are for the special, the hard-working, the community-minded, the humble, the kind…

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Sir Julian Brazier, the longest-serving member of the House, has been afflicting us here in Canterbury, Whitstable and surrounding villages since 1987. He won his knighthood for services to politics and public services. Prior to becoming an M.P he worked in corporate finance and then did a few years telling other people how to work in corporate finance.

He is in person a very nice man. Quentin Letts once described him as an ‘adolescent giraffe’ and I do not doubt the dedication of a life in the service of his beliefs; one can only pity his wife, but I suppose she’s found time to take comfort in her puddings.

However…and here’s the rub. A knighthood has just been given to a man who supported the (unsuccessful) Prohibition of Abortion Bill in 2005, which would have made abortion an imprisonable offence. He voted against the government’s same sex marriage legislation in 2013. He supported Brexit (I mean, okay, so did my mum!) but on the grounds that ‘that the EU makes the people of our country less safe’. Apparently being in the E.U makes our soldiers more likely to fall asleep in their tanks, or something like that. He also voted against a proposal to accept an extra 3000 of the most vulnerable refugee children into the U.K. He voted in favour of Fracking (I’m personally not too bothered about this), was fundamental in planning a trip for M.Ps to visit the Falklands, a political move which ramped up tensions between the U.K and Argentina. The actor Sean Peen accused Brazier and his friends on the trip of ‘ridiculous demonstrations of colonialism’.

But even if this knighthood is the Conservative Party’s equivalent of a golden handshake, pushing Brazier off the back-benches to take up more golf, the fans of the man needn’t worry. In the spirit of 1817, politics in this area is a nepotistic affair. Brazier’s son John, is already considering putting himself forward for the job. He is eminently qualified, having been elected as a city councillor for Westgate ward in 2015. John Brazier lives full-time in London.

Happy New Year 2017!

Trick of the Tongue – The Art of the Speechwriter

‘Few love to hear the sins they love to act’

In Season Four of that sublime Machievellian feast House of Cards, there is an episode where a new speechwriter criticizes the work of the Underwoods’ writing team. Reading their latest offering he says “There [is] no imagination to it. No rhythm.” The established team take offence (of course they do): “We’ve been writing their speeches since they took office. We know what we’re doing.” The new speechwriter shrugs: “Well, do you want it to be good, or do you want it to be yours?’.

Finding the right voice for a great speech is an art; it is a tricky art, born of rhythm, cadence, inflection and reflection. A speechwriter must know the subject (of course); pretenders to the crown of authority will always be found wanting. But the writer must also know the tricks of the trade. The human ear is easy to fool, and as everyone knows, the heart is all too easily led by that most biddable of orifices.

marcanthony

We can look to the best speeches in history and literature in order to spot those tricks. Antony’s magnificent sarcasm, by repeatedly intoning within his famous ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ speech that Brutus is ‘an honourable man’ (III.ii) is one of the best examples of speech-trickery. Ever. Brutus has spoken first and has made it clear that Antony may speak whatever good he wishes of Caesar so long as he speaks no ill of the conspirators. So Antony does speak no ill: but in his repeated benediction of Brutus and his coterie of cronies (alliteration is a speechwriter’s friend), he serves a rotten surfeit of praise and the audience chokes (descriptions of hyperbolic violence are always memorable… care to remember Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech).

In his February 2016 speech announcing that he was backing Brexit, Michael Gove used the ‘Antony trick’ (ultimate irony surely, as June would see him taking the role of Brutus to Johnson’s Caesar!). When Gove referenced David Cameron, the accolades piled up; Cameron was ‘an outstanding prime minister’, he had led a ‘great reforming government’ and it ‘pain[ed] him to disagree [with Dave]’. Oh stop it Michael! Put down that giant knife…In his Inferno, Dante confined Brutus to the lowest circle of hell for betraying Caesar; at least now he has company.

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Of course, a speechgiver wants to sound geniune whilst also learnéd (note the Chaucerian inflection of that word can make one sound pompous, but certainly draws the ear). Of course, you don’t want to over egg the pudding and too many clichés will make you sound as honest as the day is long (and can be confusing; is a day really that long?). Equally, avoid the use of foreign languages in speeches. If you can’t say it in English, then find another way to phrase it; afterall, a speechgiver using foreign words is just bacati kajmak u oči[1] of their audience, and they may just be about sauter du coq à l’âne[2]. Remember, quem não se comunica se trumbica[3].

You don’t want to bombard any audience with facts, although there must be a few. In the modern era of on-demand TV, the tone is set within the first paragraph and a single joke is worth a thousand statistics (Cicero that Roman master of rhetoric, integrity and proof is turning in his grave). Boris Johnson, a rare speciment of a politician who writes his own speeches, is certainly a master of the gag. Talking to the 2015 Conservative Party Conference (a stony-faced crowd generally), he said of the future of the Party, ‘We’re not done yet. We come now to what we in City Hall call Operation Juddering Climax…’ Johnson knows that the British will always be party to a little twinge of smut. When the politics thing doesn’t work out Boris, there’s an opening at the Christmas cracker factory…

The other tricks of speechwriting are numerous: Repetition (Education, Education, Education anyone?). Brevity. Use of elipsis and well-timed pauses (see paragraph above) and of course the old Grecian logos, ethos, pathos – the classical modes of persuasion from Aristotle’s Poetics.

 An audience loves a personal anecdote. Michelle Obama (U.S President 2024), recently exemplified the art of pathos in modern day speech-giving. ‘My father,’ she said to the Democratic National Convention in September 2016, ‘was a pump operator at the city water plant, and he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when my brother and I were young. And even as a kid, I knew there were plenty of days when he was in pain.’

Key words to end paragraphs (see above, ‘pain’), resonate. Yet the end to any speech should always be positive. Never leave an audience glaring into the gloom. The rhythm of those last words is vital; an iambic inflection to the final sentences gives a steadying heartbeat, a lulling music to the crowd. No one wants the meter they remember to have the panic of a butterfly furiously beating its wings against a window; the final tone should always sing of sun.

[1] Croation: throwing cream into the eyes (i.e lying to)

[2] French: to jump from the cock to the donkey (i.e changing topics without logic)

[3] Portuguese: He who doesn’t communicate, gets his fingers burnt.

Old Age Care at £31k a year! No thanks, I’m off to Eton…

sad care home
With average care home fees this week reported to now be £30,917 per year, the UK is facing a crisis. We have an aging population and a society that condones the charging of fees for elderly care which are akin to those charged for a full boarding place at a top public school. The state education system, open and available to all, strives for success; in some towns and even small cities, not a single school in rated less than Good by OFSTED. Yet for our parents and grandparents, elderly friends and relatives, the choice is often terrifyingly poor state care or £31k a year. This is like being asked to choose being a vat of boiling oil or old-fashioned Roman crushing-by-elephant. No-one is ambitious in care-giving provision and the average pensioner annual income at £14,456 falls well short of what is needed. Even if I did dispose of my worldly assets to spend £31k a year, it would not guarantee me quality. Thus, my choice is clear: I am going to have to go to Eton instead.

Eton

At Eton College (at £36k) I would be assured of many things that my 31k investment per anuum in an average UK home could not guarantee me: I could have a nice room, plenty of friends, 3 cooked meals a day. There would be a vast program of academic and non-academic pursuits to keep my body and mind sharp. Those who looked after me would be at the top of their field (educated to an average of MA level and paid an average of £34,500 a year each, with free accommodation and food) and always live on site; they would liaise regularly with my relatives about progress and an on-site medical facility with a qualified doctor and nurses would administer my medication and check-ups. I could take up an instrument, learn a new language and have my evenings taken up viewing the concerts and theatrical performances of my peers. My relatives could visit and picnic with me on our own private island (really, it’s called Queen Eyot and is quite charming). Any special diet I might have would be catered for and I could be assured that Matron would rouse me in the mornings if I was having trouble getting up.

EtonLibrary
The way we are for our elderly in Great Britain desperately needs overhauling. Care England, who represented care homes have this week accused the government of having no strategy for old age care. Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England said: ‘I don’t know how in the age of the Equality Act you have older people having to pay for a service that younger people get for free.’What young people really get for free is ambition: a society and a government that care about achieving results. It is time the UK government were honest. They need to say exactly how much good social care costs, and then universal taxes must be raised – Nordic style – to cover it. We should have the same ambition in the care for our elderly as we do for our children. If we don’t, then we are all the worst side of that Conservative poster-boy Adam Smith (who ironically died at 63 before true old age could knaw at his conviction): writing off those who cannot contribute fiscally as being dead-weight in the economic furtherment of our country and thus unworthy of our love. We might save some pounds, but we lose our heart.

And how do I know that Eton is so much a better option you might ask? Well, my socialist friends: I used to teach there (but that’s a post for another day).

PETITION: INCREASE GOVERNMENT AID TO YEMEN…THE FAMINE THE UK HELPED TO CAUSE

Real politics is about engendering change. So, whilst the Labour ‘faces’ tear the party apart, we’ll get on with the important things…

A PETITION TO: INCREASE UK GOVERNMENT AID TO EASE THE SUFFERING OF THOSE HIT BY FAMINE IN YEMEN

Millions of people in Yemen are starving to death. Latest figures from the UN suggest that nearly half of Yemeni provinces are in desperate need of further aid provision to avert a humanitarian disaster. A million and a half children are malnourished and in danger of starvation.

yemenchild

Numerous factors have brought the famine about; from the recent freezing of importer’s banks and access to capital, to the fact that (despite Saudi Arabian denial of the matter) dockyards and food-storage facilities have been systematically targeted by factions in the ongoing civil war. With 90% of food in the Yemen coming from imports, many families are living off solely flour bags and the weakest, youngest and oldest are dying in their hundreds.

UK Weapons, including cluster bombs banned by the UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in the early 1980s, have been found on the ground in Yemen. The UK is in part responsible for the death and suffering of hundreds of thousands. The UK Government’s current position is immoral; whilst we have the capacity to raise aid to Yemen’s starving civilians through international aid agencies, we must do so.

Last year the UK Government contributed £87million of bilateral aid to Yemen. That is £2.90 per year, per UK taxpayer. In contrast, in the 3-month period July-September 2015, the UK exported £1billion worth of bombs, rockets and missiles to Saudi Arabia; exports of these goods must be signed off by British ministers. Claims from the International Development Select Committee and in the The Guardian have repeatedly suggested that supplying these arms leads to devastation which is then only partially cleaned up with British aid money. Stephen Twigg, Labour MP and chair of the select committee, describes the government’s actions as paradoxical. In 2015, BAE systems – the largest British exporter of weaponry – made a 1.5billion profit;  over 20 times the amount of aid sent to the Yemen. The director of BAE, Sir Roger Carr, continues to assert that selling weapons ‘encourages peace’. 

This petition demands one simple thing: to raise the amount of aid we are sending to ease the suffering of the starving in Yemen. We also call on the UK Government to review the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and the training that the UK provides to Saudi troops who then go on to illegally target civilian provisions and food-sources in Yemen.

Please sign this petition and raise awareness where you can.

 

‘What’s Left?’ – a speech by the future Labour Party leader

In July 2016, the future Labour Party leader made the following impassioned speech… [N.B an imagined event]

What’s Left?

Many of those thinking about British politics today are asking one simple question: what’s Left?

In a Party picking at the bones of former successes, it is easy to mistake a friend for a jackal. I want to remind us of what unites us; I want to remind us why Left is, in fact, right. I will be brief, for whilst we have a long history but we do – believe me – have an even longer, more successful future and we need to start looking towards it.

What’s Left? Well, Left is first and foremost about the abolition of inequality. Of course, the whole spectrum of British politics will nowadays profess this as a primary concern, but their promises are mere shadows; they lack substance and they lack evidence. Friends, we – the Labour party – have a proud history of championing and helping those who can least help themselves.

We do not impose austerity that hits those who can least afford it.

We do not support crippling costs to individuals for season tickets on public transport.

We do not re-introduce grammar schools which have never evidenced social mobility.

We do not privatize the wonderful NHS or schooling system to allow massive profits to be made from what are fundamental ‘British Rights’ : the rights to a free, fair, equal and excellent education and to a free, fair, equal and excellent health care provision.

Friends, a lot of our legacy is left and we have much more time left to do more.

What’s Left? We are left. The Labour party has a massive membership, over half a million people are members of the Labour Party. We are a members’ party: a party of comrades and friends. Of course, the Left encompasses a broad spectrum of belief –but we must remember that the best families squabble, fight and love in equal measure. When we leave the ‘front door’ we are ‘family’ and soon, that door will once again be Number 10.

To Trident or not to Trident? – Let’s discuss it.

Do we want HS2? Let’s discuss it.

What should the restrictions on Child Benefit be? Let’s discuss it.

How can we make immigration work for us? Let’s discuss it.

Those discussions should begin at Party Conference; we must take direction from our members; those 500,000 members are what is left.

What’s Left? I am left. Choosing to stand for Labour leader wasn’t easy. I am not Keir Hardie; I am not Aneurin Bevan; I am not Tony Blair. Equally, I am not the person who didn’t stand. I refuse to let the 2020 election be my beloved party’s nadir. I am Left-wing and I am left; I must stand and I thank you for supporting us: let’s all now come back to the family table. We are left.

‘Y’ not Remain? Generation Y and the E.U Referendum

In a Britain pricing Generations Y and Z out of all sorts of opportunities (housing, education, any chance of early retirement…) it should come as no surprise that recent polls see those between 18 and 40 overwhelmingly in favour of backing the Remain campaign in the E.U. Referendum. The concept of British-ness is, after all, one wholly owned by another generation.

The under-40s have been the victims of opportunity denial: according to The Sunday Times this week, baby-boomers (those born between 1946-1960) hold more than £1 trillion of net worth in their homes; this is seven time that held by the under-35s. The young hard-working voter must ask themselves: ‘why vote for a Brexit that gives me no more power?’ A Brexit vote just allows the minnow to leap from the frying pan and into the proverbial fire: this time, they’ll be the ones paying wholly self-inflicted taxes, working until they’re 85 to fund a healthcare system that crumbles under the weight of their obese parents.

Why would the young want to be part of an autonomous Britain? Do they really identify with the sort of Britain that builds proverbial walls (isn’t Trump doing that?) and decides without E.U interference to remove the £9k cap on tuition fees, so that any ‘quality’ university can charge what they like, pricing many out of the best opportunities? ‘Sign me up to this club’ the young cry, ‘why, Boris / Ian / Nigel (insert any male name not given to a male child since 1979) clearly has my future in mind…’

The young are not ordinarily the voting bloc that one would associate with being the great defenders of the status quo, but in this political dogfight they are the generation that has no memory of being ‘sold a kipper’ back in the 1975 referendum. The Remain campaign should be courting these ‘young Europeans’ much better, yet they seem scared of engaging in the ideological argument about it being better to knock down walls rather than build them. The young still hope this is true; the world needs the young to still believe this is true. Humankind that thrives on this idea since some young ancestor of ours took a brave step and walked out of Africa.

Both the Brexit and Remain camps have decided the only ways to court the younger voter are (a) to patronize them; an example of this provided by the recent Stronger In Europe video aimed at young people. Perhaps it was the thumping techno-house soundtrack that distracted the video editors into forgetting to put ‘g’s on all the words in the video? I shouldn’t really mind: after all, we’re the generation that’s too jammin to be spellin. The other method employed by the politicos to engage the young, is to shout at them. Witness, exhibit (b): the BBC debate last week aimed at the under-30s. At this debate, a panel with an average age of 60 seemed to forget that the hearing doesn’t start to deteriorate until – on average – your early 60s. The panel came across as a row of boorish Headteachers, modeled on icons such as Dahl’s Miss Trunchball and the Generation Y classic ‘The Demon Headmaster’…

demon headmaster

It is frustrating that the Remain campaign hasn’t done enough to ensure a strong turnout from a generation naturally inclined to support them. Almost everyone I know will be backing Remain if (and this is a big ‘if‘) they can be motivated to vote.

I live by the sea (I can almost see France) and tonight I’m off to enjoy a fish and chip supper (thanks to E.U quotas cod is almost sustainable again) with my children. I just really hope that in a few years time I don’t have to my kids them that grandparents bought all of Brexit’s red herrings and sold them down the river.

NOTE: Apologies for the surfeit of fish allusions in this article: these, including other facts and stats associated with E.U fishing quotas, are key components of ‘Brexit-lingo’. One should be wary of hyperbole claiming that the effect of the ‘migration crisis’ is that our kids are ‘packed like sardines’ in primary schools, or that being a ‘big fish in our own tiny tank’ would be preferable to our current influence in the Aquarium at Brussels.

Link

Right: let’s stop pretending a double standard doesn’t exist. A girl’s genitals are no more sacrosanct than those of the world’s men. Bodies are born, made as they were made to be made: there is no place in the modern world for doctor, state or faith to interfere. I’m going to state this very simply: it is time to ban all male circumcision, (unless for medical reasons) for all under 18s. I contend that the British parliament should debate this issue. Please read the article and sign this petition if you agree.

Our Boys

At the moment our girls are protected thanks to the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. Whilst prosecutions using these laws have been worryingly few, British attitudes towards Female Circumcision (now always referred to using the non-hyperbolic term ‘Mutilation’) have vastly shifted.

Right now, a few people are gasping into their coffees. How can we discuss regulating male circumcision? ‘Surely that’s anti-semitic’ or ‘oh no, another example of pernicious Islamaphobia seeping into our society’, they say’ (it is too easily to pull these Get Out of Jail Free Cards). ‘Absolutely not’, I will counter: this is progress; this is protection for our babies and, finally, this is long overdue. My father’s Jewish family agree.

We wouldn’t be the first European country to debate banning the practice. The Danish parliament have recently debated the banning of the practice. There have also been attempts to criminalise the act in San Francisco, Iceland and other Nordic regions.

Male Infant on Circumcision Board

In 2013 the Swedish Medical Association also recommended 12 as a minimum age for male circumcision and requiring a boy’s consent; this recommendation was unanimously passed by the Association’s ethics council and was supported by the 85% of Swedish G.Ps that are members of said council. Furthermore, the Danish College of G.Ps issued a statement that ritual circumcision of boys ‘was tantamount to abuse and mutilation’ (trans.) and a regional court in Cologne, Germany ruled in June 2012 that ‘male circumcision performed as a ritual conflicts with the child’s best interests as the parents’ right to religious upbringing of their children, when weighed against the child’s right to physical integrity and self- determination, has no priority.’ The Child Rights International Network agrees: ‘it is time we started debating the issue from a civil-rights stance’. The Human Rights Council also states it simply enough: each child has a right to determine his or her own future. Parents may direct not determine a child’s choices in life. Circumcision is irrevocable; it is clear determination on the part of the parents, not simply the lighter touch of religious or cultural ‘direction’.

Columnist Tanya Gold was outraged in October 2013 when the Council of Europe passed a resolution called ‘The Child’s Rights to Physical Integrity’ . She writes: ‘For Jews, circumcision, which is performed at eight days (if the child is healthy), is the covenant with God, and the single most significant ritual in Judaism: “My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people.” It is almost the only ritual that both progressive and ultra-Orthodox Jews, so often at each others’ throats as to who is the most righteous kind of Jew, agree on; even progressives who embrace marriage to non-Jews, gay marriage and female elevation to the rabbinate insist on it.’

She has a point. She claims that some members of the Jewish community will leave any country which passed laws banning circumcision outright. This would be wrong; no-one should be press-ganged from anywhere because of what they believe. But babies don’t believe in anything yet (remember it is parents’ role to direct not determine). There is more of a need for state institutions and legislature to protect the bodies of the vulnerable than ever before. Why not a ‘symbolic, non-surgical ritual’ at 8 days instead (as suggested by Norway’s Ombudsman for Children) and then when they reach adulthood; Jewish men can affirm the covenant their parents suggested for them and can elect to have the procedure themselves?  Times do change: of the 613 mitzvot, (248 do’s, and 365 don’ts) prescribed in the Torah, only 369 are still operative.

Another journalist, Neil Lyndon writing in The Telegraph in July 2014 asserted that male ritual genital mutilation is ‘the barbarity that can never be named as such.’ His article entitled ‘It’s time for a proper debate on circumcision’ attracted over 600 comments from readers, including one man who, having been circumcised as a baby himself, was persuaded not to circumcise his own sons. Who persuaded him not to? His own mother.

Then, the medical argument. Bear in mind that most studies eschewing positive medical grounds for universal circumcision come from countries where the majority are already circumcised. Whilst around 78% of the world’s men are intact, over 98% of studies claiming ‘positive medical grounds’ for circumcision come from countries where the vast majority of men are circumcised. To those who claim HIV and other STIs are less easily transmitted by a cut male, it is interesting to note that the U.S has much higher rates of HIV transmission than Europe; in the U.S 55% of men are circumcised (although this rate is falling each year) and in Europe only around 11% are. The idea of cutting as protection is outmoded; just wear a condom. The STI debate is also slightly erroneous as ground for not banning the cutting of children; babies and children are not sexually active. Hopefully parents also wash their children and teach them to maintain good genital hygiene. In modern Britain, we bathe our children regularly; these are not the Middle Ages where baths were a suspicious luxury. We can prevent 99% of infections just by doing what we now do everyday. 

Furthermore, plenty of psychological studies have begun to examine the impact of early circumcision on the developing brain. A Psychology Today article published in January 2015 affirms that: ‘Although some believe that babies “won’t remember” the pain, we now know that the body “remembers” as evidenced by studies which demonstrate that circumcised infants are more sensitive to pain later in life (Taddio et al., 1997). Research carried out using neonatal animals as a proxy to study the effects of pain on infants’ psychological development have found distinct behavioral patterns characterized by increased anxiety, altered pain sensitivity, hyperactivity, and attention problems (Anand & Scalzo, 2000).’ Even where pain relief is used, there are plenty of psychological consequences for boys including the body shaming notion that their bodies (as per design) were not ‘fit’ for purpose or a study from 1999 that proved that a majority of circumcised men conceptualized their circumcision experience as an act of violence, mutilation, or sexual assault.

The debate rages; of course it does. From excellent articles in America to very thorough research from The University of Oxford on the matter everyone wants to think about it. Well, let the debate rage here in Britain, I say and I repeat: I contend that the British parliament should debate this issue. Please sign here if you agree.