Yes, the EU referendum was advisory. Parliament still can’t ignore the vote

I’m so tired of people who wish to frustrate the process of Brexit, arguing that “the referendum was only advisory; it was not a binding referendum”.

Let’s put this argument to bed once and for all. Yes, it is true that from a constitutional point of view, referendums in the United Kingdom are seen as advisory. In order for a decision to be binding, it has to be implemented by our Parliament. No special laws were passed in order to make the EU referendum binding – it followed the same rules as all previous referendums in the UK.

So yes, from a legal and constitutional perspective, the referendum was advisory. But this does not change the fact that David Cameron, in his Bloomberg speech that set out the basis for the referendum, said “I say to the British people: this will be your decision”. He went on to say “you, the British people, will decide”.

At no point did he say, “We will ask you to make a decision and then decide for ourselves whether or not to implement your decision”.

Leaving aside David Cameron’s words, the “advisory” nature of the referendum does not change the fact that the government leaflet, sent out to every household in the UK and setting out in no uncertain terms why the government was backing the UK remaining in the EU, stated “This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide”.Screen Shot 2017-11-20 at 23.09.31

And the advisory nature of the referendum does not change the fact that on every other occasion on which the British public have been asked to respond to a referendum, the majority decision in that referendum has been implemented.  The only occasion on which the simple majority decision was not implemented, was the referendum on Scottish devolution.  This returned a result of 51.6% for devolution and 48.4% against, but devolution did not proceed because the turnout was only 63.6%, meaning only 32.8% of the electorate had actually voted for devolution.  As a threshold had been set, stipulating that the referendum result would only be valid it it was endorsed by 40% of the electorate, the result was deemed invalid.

I can immediately hear Remainers shouting “but the 40% threshold was not met for the EU referendum!” (Turnout was 72%, and 52% of voters voted to leave, giving a total of 37.4% of the electorate).

And this would be a valid point, had any threshold been set. But the problem was, there was no such threshold. It was made clear that the decision would be taken on a simple majority of those who voted – so the 52% vote for Leave was seen as a valid decision for Leave.

For comparison – while the decision to leave the EU is inarguably much greater than the decision over whether or not to form the Welsh Assembly, I can’t resist pointing out that the referendum on whether or not to form the Welsh Assembly, returned a 50.3% majority Yes vote, on a 50.1% turnout. Despite the fact that this amounted to only 25% of the electorate voting for it, this was considered sufficient for the Welsh Assembly to be formed.

Personally, I think a threshold should have been set for the Brexit referendum – a supermajority of either 50% of the electorate, or a two-thirds majority of those who voted, or some other threshold that would have ensured that we would not be in the situation in which we now find ourselves, where the percentage difference between Leave and Remain is so small that the country finds itself at loggerheads.

Historically, however, the government has always been reluctant to set thresholds for referendums. The referendum on Scottish devolution, mentioned above, was in fact the only referendum in the last 50 years for which any threshold was set. After all, the whole point of a referendum is to gauge popular support for a given issue, generally with the intention of “settling” that issue through public consultation.  Setting thresholds only serves to reduce the likelihood of a final decision being made.

In the case of the EU referendum, the government must have realised it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get a supermajority for Remain. They were hoping that by having a referendum, even if the British people voted narrowly for Remain, it would be sufficient to settle the question of EU membership once and for all. They never considered the fact that the decision would be for Leave – hence their failure to plan for such a decision, and the mess in which we find ourselves now.

Despite all this, thankfully Parliament recognises that the “advisory” nature of UK referendums does not give MPs the right to ignore the wishes of the British public – hence why Parliament voted overwhelmingly (by 498 to 114) to trigger article 50. The referendum itself may have been advisory, but Parliament recognised the fact that the decision could not simply be ignored, and the parliamentary vote was binding. Surely it’s now time we all accepted the result and moved on to trying to find the best way forward for the UK, outside the EU?

 

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – a pawn in too many political games

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Is there anything more frustrating, at the moment, than the story in the British media about the continued imprisonment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman who has been detained in Iran since April 2016?

Well yes, actually, there is. Firstly, the fact that she’s not the only British-Iranian citizen being held in Iran on trumped-up charges. Kamal Foroughi, a 77-year-old grandfather, has been held in the same prison as Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, since 2011, on equally bogus charges, despite repeated appeals by his family for the government to intervene to attempt to secure his release.

But secondly, and more crucially, there’s the fact that certain politicians and political commentators in the UK, aided by our own media, appear more than happy to use her as a pawn in their own political power games, while glossing over the fact that she is already a pawn in a much bigger game being played by the Iranian regime.

If one were simply to read the news reports of the last week or so, it would be easy to believe that this poor woman had been about to be released, until our Foreign Secretary went and put his foot in his mouth by saying that she had been training journalists in Iran, at which stage the Iranian authorities decided to use Mr Johnson’s remarks as evidence in a new case against her, potentially doubling her sentence. No wonder everybody is calling for him to be sacked.

But of course, that’s nowhere near the whole truth.

The second set of charges against Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was, in fact, filed on 8 October 2017, almost a month before Boris Johnson’s remarks to the Foreign Affairs select committee. And crucially, two days after worldwide media reported that Donald Trump was threatening not to recertify the Iran nuclear deal that had been signed by the Obama administration in early 2016.

What does the Iran nuclear deal have to do with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe? – you may ask. Well, potentially quite a lot.

Iran, it seems, has a history of using Iranian citizens with dual nationality, as bargaining chips in its negotiations with the west.  It is deeply suspicious of western governments, and so tends to view any citizen who holds dual nationality as a potential spy. It has arrested a number of dual citizens in recent years, always on vague charges relating to spying or plotting to overthrow the Iranian regime. Furthermore, it does not recognise dual citizenship, so does not allow consular officials from the western nation involved, to visit any of these detainees.

Nevertheless, as part of the nuclear deal that was signed in January 2016, the United States was able to secure the release of five US-Iranian citizens, in exchange for the release of seven Iranians who had been imprisoned in the US. It’s apparently pure coincidence that on the same day the exchange took place, the US also made a payment of USD 1.7bn to the Iranian regime.

Now this is where it gets interesting. This payment of USD 1.7bn related to an outstanding debt of USD 400 million (plus compound interest) which the United States had owed Iran since 1979. The debt dated back to an arms deal that had been made with the former Shah, in which he had paid upfront for a shipment of arms which were ultimately not delivered when the Shah was deposed during the Iranian revolution later that year.  So the US paid its debt, prisoners were exchanged, the nuclear deal was signed, everybody walked away happy.

Well, not quite.

It turns out the UK did a very similar deal with the Shah in the 1970s, for the supply of chieftain tanks and support vehicles. Again, the Shah paid upfront. And again, the UK ultimately never delivered the tanks once the Shah was deposed. So the Iranian regime has been trying for almost 40 years to get its money back from the UK government. It was supposed to be repaid in 2010, but somehow this failed to happen. In November 2016, many of the mainstream media sites in the UK reported comments by Richard Ratcliffe, directly attributing his wife’s detention to the failed arms deal. It’s odd that those same news sites now appear to have forgotten that crucial piece of information, in their determination to lay the blame for her continued imprisonment at Boris Johnson’s feet.

Or maybe they haven’t forgotten. It’s possible that the foreign office have managed to convince Richard Ratcliffe, and the media, that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s plight has nothing to do with the historic arms debt.   And it’s possible that it truly does have nothing to do with that particular debt – it may be that separate negotiations are already underway in that regard.

It’s not simply the debt that Iran is concerned about, though. Since the lifting of sanctions against Iran as a result of the nuclear deal agreed by Barack Obama, Iran is keen to ensure not only that the deal remains in place, but also wishes to improve trading relations with the United Kingdom and other western nations.   So once again, with Donald Trump refusing the recertify the arms deal, isn’t it handy to have two British-Iranian citizens in prison in Tehran, to motivate the UK to continue to join forces with the EU in pressuring Trump to recertify?

It’s very easy to dismiss all this as a conspiracy theory – except for the fact that Boris Johnson himself, in his testimony to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, made it clear that the Iranian regime are known for imprisoning dual-nationals for the very purpose of using them as bargaining chips. How interesting, that this particular exchange didn’t make it into the headlines in the way that his remarks about her “training journalists” did:

(Ann Clwyd, committee member): “But can I just ask you… do you think we’re playing it in the right way, because the Americans always seem to get their people out?”

(Boris Johnson): Well ….they do.. . sometimes. .. but then what happens is that the Iranians lift some more… and hold them for the same purposes”

(Committee member): “So the Iranians are hostage-taking, is what you’re saying?”

(Boris Johnson): “Well I’m not going to go so far as to say that but what’s certainly the case is that the American efforts to do deals have then been followed by further very very difficult consular cases in which duals have been detained”.

Right.  That pretty much sounds like hostage-taking to me.

Finally, let’s talk about that “training journalists” comment, shall we? Our media has been having a field day, saying that Mr Johnson didn’t “stick to the script” about what Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing in Iran, that his comment that she was training journalists was what led to her being brought up on a second set of charges and potentially being imprisoned for a further five years.

Well firstly, when Mr Johnson said that she was “teaching people journalism” it was not, in fact, in response to a question about what she was doing in Iran. It was rather part of a broad discussion about how difficult it has been for the foreign office to provide consular assistance, given the Iranian regime does not recognise dual nationality, and also how difficult it has been for the foreign office to try to negotiate her release.  His comment that “When you look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing… she was simply teaching people journalism, as I understand it… at the very limit” was clearly an expression of his frustration at the fact that his Iranian counterparts have clearly told him that the reason for her imprisonment was because she was teaching journalism.

Again, it’s already been widely reported that her initial arrest was related to her former work for Thomson-Reuters and the BBC, and not related to what she was actually doing in Iran at the time of her arrest. So the fact that she was on holiday at the time of her arrest is irrelevant. The determination of the media to focus on the reason for her visit to Iran, in an effort to undermine Boris Johnson and imply that by saying she was “teaching people journalism” he has undermined her case, is irresponsible in the extreme, and plays into the hands of the Iranian regime who seek to use Mr Johnson’s comments as justification for continuing to imprison her.

The continued attempts to shift the focus of public outrage away from the Iranian regime, and onto first Boris Johnson, and now Michael Gove, for his comment to Andrew Marr that he “doesn’t know” what Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing in Iran, are a clear ploy by their enemies to try to undermine them. As prominent members of parliament, both potential successors to Theresa May, and both committed Brexiteers, they are each particularly vulnerable to attacks from those who would wish to undermine or derail Brexit, or even destabilise the government in the hopes of forcing a general election.

As Johnson himself said at the same Foreign Affairs select committee meeting, before all the fuss blew up about his so-called gaffe,

“If I may say so, one of the…. disadvantages of escalating these difficult consular cases and having a very loud public campaign in this country, is that that simply strengthens the hand of those who are using these cases for their own internal ends in Iran”

In focusing so heavily on Johnson’s “gaffe”, the UK media has raised the public consciousness of this case to an unprecedented level. Richard Ratcliffe appears to have taken heart from this, and is clearly hopeful that the raised profile of the case will force the foreign office to take additional action to secure her release that it previously had not been willing to take. I can only hope that he is right – however, I fear that by so elevating the profile of this one particular hostage, the press may have simply increased her value to the Iranian regime.

Sources:

Boris Johnson select committee testimony

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/06/calm-before-the-storm-trump-set-to-walk-away-from-iran-nuclear-deal

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-mod-the-arms-deal-and-a-30-year-old-bill-for-pound400m-1952972.html

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/iran-holds-briton-as-arms-deal-bargaining-chip-dxz8wbcvz

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/iran-sues-mod-firm-over-the-shahs-tanks-9101713.html

http://www.theweek.co.uk/us-cash-for-hostages/75265/did-the-us-pay-cash-for-hostages-to-iran

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/09/british-iranian-woman-jailed-in-tehran-faces-new-charges-says-husband

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/british-iranian-nazanin-zaghari-ratcliffe-held-in-tehran-due-to-uk-arms-debt_uk_5832ad9ce4b0c6c8bc15ffed

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/7632836/Britain-to-pay-back-Iran-400-million.html

 

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Yes, 69% of UK constituencies really did vote to leave the EU

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A few days ago I wrote a blog in which I mentioned that 69% of constituencies in the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, as opposed to only 31% who voted to remain.

A reader chose to challenge me on this, calling this “misrepresentation”. I have, in response, directed him to the full electoral commission results data set, which is very easy to interpret, and which clearly backs up my claim – 263 constituencies showed a majority for leave, as opposed to only 119 which had a majority for remain.

“So what?”, you may ask. The referendum was run on the basis of one vote per person, so the absolute number of votes is what counts.

That is, of course, correct. The absolute number of votes amounted to 52% Leave vs 48% Remain – hence these are the figures that everybody always talks about.

But I still think it’s worth talking about the constituency figures. Or, more to the point, talking about why it is that votes are counted by constituency in a general election, rather than each person simply voting for the party they wish to see in government, and the party with the highest number of absolute votes winning.

Constituency-based voting – like the electoral college system in the United States – was put in place to try to balance out the representation of those living in densely-populated urban areas vs those living in more sparsely-populated rural areas. In a one-person one-vote system, it is easy to see how the 4.6 million registered voters living in London could easily outvote the half a million people registered to vote in Wales, or the slightly less than 4 million people registered to vote in Scotland.

We all know many Londoners feel that life outside London doesn’t exist, but the truth is it does. And the needs and interests of those living outside London are, in many cases, far removed from those of London’s inhabitants. The constituency voting system therefore groups votes together by geographical area, and gives each constituency an equal weighting – despite the fact that some constituencies, due to the density of their populations, have a far higher number of voters than others. Each constituency elects an MP, and the party with the highest number of MPs gets to form the government (if it has an outright majority) or, in the event that an outright majority has not been reached, has the first opportunity to approach other parties to try to form a coalition.

The system is not perfect, and disputes about constituency boundaries frequently arise, but it does at least ensure that those living in rural areas still end up with their interests being represented, which they otherwise would not be.

Which brings me back to the referendum. Given the reasons the constituency voting system exists – and given we already know that issues that affect voters in London are very different from those that affect voters in the north of England, or the Midlands, or in Wales, or Scotland, or Northern Ireland – why was the constituency voting system not used in the referendum?

One reason, of course, is the binary nature of the question. Voters were not electing MPs – they were deciding whether or not they wished to remain part of the European Union.

But let’s not pretend for a minute that the government, in deciding that the referendum would be run on a simple majority of votes, was not relying on the voters in the big cities to swing the referendum firmly to Remain.   Therefore the fact that the overall majority was for Leave, is quite extraordinary – and is an indication of to what extent the views and ambitions of those living in London and other wealthy metropolitan parts of the country, are out of step with the rest of the UK.

I’m not arguing for one minute that the referendum should have been run on a constituency basis. With so many factors influencing every individual’s decision, it is right that the overall decision was taken on a one person, one vote basis. But I will never stop reminding people of the very high percentage of constituencies that voted to leave – or the reasons why we have a constituency voting system in place for general elections.

One of my more enduring memories of the morning of 24 June 2016, sometime around 6.00 or 7.00 am, when many in the UK were just waking up to the news that Britain had voted to leave the EU, was of a BBC London news reporter announcing “Londoners have woken up this morning to find themselves irrelevant to the national referendum result”.   Sadly I don’t recall which reporter it was who uttered the words (I think it was Ben Thompson but would not like to stake my life on that), but the momentousness of that statement – of the word “irrelevant” ever being used to describe London, will likely stay with me for the rest of my life.

The UK’s political, economic and social discourse is usually dominated by what is happening in London – the rest of the country finding itself a mere footnote.   The absolute majority of people who voted for Leave may have been relatively small, but the reality of the way the vote broke down in constituency terms paints a very different story. This was a phenomenal, resounding reminder to those living in London and other wealthy metropolitan parts of the country, that the typically voiceless majority living in the rest of the country could no longer be ignored.

The fact that a few prominent London-based politicians, lawyers and businessmen are still trying desperately to overturn that result, shows just how hard they are finding it to come to terms with their own irrelevance. The one-person, one-vote system may not be as fair to rural voters as the constituency voting system, but on occasion, it still packs a punch in reminding elected officials just whom it is that they are elected to serve.

* For those who enjoy spreadsheets and data, the link to download the csv file of referendum results is here:

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Why South Africa’s farm murders should worry us all

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Parts of South Africa have come to a standstill today in protest against the increasing number of attacks and murders affecting those living and working on farms in the country.

The first thing to point out is that this is not a new phenomenon. Farmers in South Africa have always found themselves vulnerable to attack. Being in possession of large portions of land, in a country with significant wealth inequality, makes them an attractive target for burglars who believe (often wrongly) that land ownership equates to sizeable wealth.   The fact that, in many cases, very little ends up being stolen (in most cases due to the fact that the perpetrators realise there is very little to steal) sadly does not halt the trend.

And the sad truth is that the trend is upwards.   Recent claims that farming in South Africa is the most dangerous profession in the world, with the murder rate among farmers being four and a half times the national average murder rate (which in turn is significantly higher than the world average murder rate) have been vigorously challenged, with the Africacheck fact-checking website highlighting discrepancies in the definition of what should be classed as a farm murder versus the definitions used to determine the population of farm workers. As their report highlights, it is near impossible to get an accurate official figure for a “murder rate” on farms.

It is not, however, impossible to verify that the number of attacks and murders is increasing.  AfriForum, the South African farmers’ union, reported 357 attacks and 70 murders in 2016 – compared to 48 murders recorded in 2011.   We are not yet at the end of 2017 but already 70 murders have been reported this year – with Lorraine Claasen, a criminologist for AfriForum, pointing out that there is usually a spike in November and December which will likely see this number rise further.

Discussions around farm attacks are inevitably politically charged, and invariably degenerate into racial hostility, with terms such as “white genocide” used by white activists who see the attacks as a deliberate attempt to drive white farmers off the land and out of the country – especially given reports of the gruesome torture to which many of the victims are subjected.

Responses to the “white genocide” claims typically take two forms – with some people claiming that “white genocide” is a racist myth created by white people who only see crimes against their own race as important, while some black activists simply say “Give us back the land so that we don’t have to take it back” – fuelled, no doubt, by a claim made in 2013 by Andile Mngxitama, founder of the socialist political party “Black First! Land First!” that 80% of the land in South Africa is owned by 40,000 white people. The fact that this claim has been proven completely inaccurate will make no difference to many who believe it to be true.

As to where this claim came from – according to Africacheck, this appears to be based on conflating two separate sets of data: first, that 80% of the land in South Africa is privately owned (whether by individuals, corporations or trusts, and taking into account that the definition of “land” includes all urban real estate, as well as farms and mines) – and secondly, the fact that in 2011 there were roughly 40,000 farming units in South Africa.

But the number of farming units does not equate to the number of farmers, nor does it mean that all farming units are white-owned. Similarly, the “land” that is privately owned will be owned by people of all races.

The truth is, this is not purely a “white” problem. A Committee of Enquiry into farm attacks in 2003 determined that of the attacks that had taken place up to that date, 61.6% of victims were white, 33.3% were black, 4.4% were Asian and the remaining 0.7% were listed as “other”. While the victims’ race has not been recorded in recent years, making up-to-date racial analysis impossible, it would be naïve to believe that only white farmers are currently being attacked.

But the real reason this is not purely a “white” problem – nor, for that matter, purely a South African problem – is the wider issue of population growth, combined with the decline in agricultural production, not only in South Africa but in Africa as a whole.

South Africa, traditionally, has been a net exporter of food and agricultural products, both within Africa and the rest of the world. Since 2007, however, it has become a net importer of certain food types where previously it was a net exporter – particularly maize, rice, meat and wheat.   It remains a net exporter of citrus fruits, wine, grapes, apples, pears and quinces, and wool.

The number of commercial farmers in South Africa, meanwhile, has dropped from 128,000 in 1980, to around 30,000 currently – and is expected to fall as low as 15,000 within the next 10 years.

The reasons for this are twofold – firstly, due to low rainfall and poor soil quality, only about 12% of land in South Africa is suitable for growing crops, with recent droughts further reducing the soil quality, making farming a particularly tough business to be in.

And secondly, the lack of security – both politically and physically – is putting many farmers off. Fears for their safety, and lack of certainty over government land redistribution policies, have led many farmers to decide to sell up in favour of a more secure lifestyle.

It is very tempting to flippantly say, “Fine, let them sell up, we already import food, we can just import more”. But from where – and at what cost?

South Africa’s current largest food import markets are Argentina, Brazil, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. Imports are priced according to the currency of the exporting country, meaning South Africa is paying for its imports primarily in pounds, euros and dollars.   Given the relative strength of these currencies versus the South African rand, it makes no economic sense to seek to increase food imports from those parts of the world unless absolutely necessary.

Furthermore, despite the decline in agricultural production in recent years, South Africa still has the most productive and competitive agricultural sector of any country in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). It is not only South Africans who rely on South African farms – it is the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.   With estimates that the demand for food in SSA could rise by as much as 360% by 2050, the fact that South Africa’s output is declining has implications far beyond its own borders.

Zimbabwe – another former net exporter of food, previously referred to as “the bread-basket of Africa” – has recently been reduced to food shortages which have sparked a humanitarian crisis in the country. Among the many reasons for this are the combination of land-grabs and murders that drove many of its formerly successful farmers out of the country – and drought that has devastated the crops of those who have remained. Zimbabwe now relies heavily on imports of food from South Africa.

Farming in South Africa is no doubt one of the least secure, most challenging businesses available.   But it is also one of the most vital. To have any chance of continuing, it requires significant development in technology, infrastructure and water sources – but equally it requires improvements in land reform policies such that land remains commercially viable, rather than being split up and handed over to new owners who have no experience in farming and who end up leaving the land idle.   And most importantly, it requires those who currently farm the land, to be allowed to go about their work and their lives in security.

Farm attacks are not just a white problem. Nor are they just a South African problem. If South Africa’s agricultural production is allowed to go the way of Zimbabwe’s, the knock-on effect on sub-Saharan Africa could cause a humanitarian crisis that the rest of the world simply will not be able to ignore. So let’s not ignore the protests now.

Sources:

https://africacheck.org/reports/do-40000-whites-own-80-of-sa-the-claim-is-incorrect/

https://africacheck.org/factsheets/factsheet-statistics-farm-attacks-murders-sa/

http://www.daff.gov.za/Daffweb3/Portals/0/Statistics%20and%20Economic%20Analysis/Economic%20Analysis/Economic%20Review%202016.pdf

http://allafrica.com/stories/201705250482.html

https://www.agrisa.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Thought-leadership-Hamlet-1.pdf

https://www.iol.co.za/mercury/south-africas-ever-shrinking-farmers-1167943

http://awsassets.wwf.org.za/downloads/facts_brochure_mockup_04_b.pdf

 

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Abandon Brexit? Be prepared to embrace plutocracy

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A recent YouGov poll asked the question, “How would you feel if Brexit didn’t happen?” Respondents were allowed to choose up to three options ranging from “Betrayed” or “Angry” to “Delighted” or “Relieved”.

As expected, the most common response among Remainers was “Relieved” with the majority of Leavers saying they would feel “Betrayed”.

What caught my eye, though, was the number of Remainers who admitted that they would feel either betrayed (3%), angry (4%) or disappointed (6%) if it didn’t happen.   In other words, despite the fact that they voted to remain in the EU, they would not wish to see the government renege on its promise to implement the result of the referendum.

Personally, the very fact that this question is even being asked, makes me feel betrayed, angry and, despite it not being an option on the poll, fearful for the future of our democracy. For while it is heartening to see that a small number of Remainers recognise the fact that having a government that does what its electorate asks it to, is more important than seeing their own personal wishes implemented, the fact that the option of not implementing the Brexit result is even being discussed, should alarm everybody who genuinely believes that Britain is a democratic country.

Make no mistake – if Brexit doesn’t happen this will not only be the biggest betrayal by the UK government of its citizens and its democratic mandate, that I have known in my lifetime. It will also be a clear signal that our democracy is a sham, that our nation truly is a plutocracy in which the rich and powerful minority are able to exert their will over the majority in all matters.

Think I’m being hysterical? Consider the fact that the vote for Brexit was not only won via an absolute majority of votes (52% to 48%) but that, had the votes been counted in the way they usually are in a general election, i.e. on a constituency basis, the ratio of Leave to Remain votes would have been 69% Leave vs 31% Remain.

If the UK parliament can fail to implement a decision that was endorsed by 69% of constituencies, and 52% of all citizens, and doesn’t find itself overturned by popular uprising as a result, then why should it not take that as a clear message that all future general election results can be ignored?

Fast-forward to the 2022 General Election. Maybe Theresa May has managed to cling on to power. Maybe she’s been replaced by Boris Johnson, or Jacob Rees-Mogg, or David Davis, or, God forbid, Philip Hammond. Either way, unless something pretty drastic has happened in terms of Tory party policy in the intervening years, chances are they are even less popular than they are right now. Let’s now assume that the Labour Party, still led by Jeremy Corbyn, still making promises in opposition that he knows he can’t possibly keep, manages to secure a majority of seats in Parliament.

Oh, the celebrations among idealistic Corbynistas! I can just see it now – the street parties, the victory speeches, the chants of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn!” throughout the streets of Islington. Corbyn himself going to meet the Queen and agonising over whether or not to bow when he does so.

And then the crushing disappointment and aghast disbelief, as moderate Labour MPs join forces with Conservative MPs to hold an immediate vote of no-confidence in the new Prime Minister, and replace him with a more Blairite alternative. Not Blair himself, obviously – that really would be a step too far, and would be illegal given Blair is no longer an MP – but somebody who could be trusted to toe the centre-left line that the UK parliament has been treading for so many years.

“Centre-left?” – you cry. “Don’t be ridiculous – those right-wing Tory bastards have been in power for the past 7 years – we dream of centre-left policies!”

Well yes, notionally the Tories are in power, but they’re not really, are they?   You only have to look at how left-wing all our public institutions are, to see who really runs the country. Schools, universities, the police service, social services, our national broadcaster – all are rabidly left-wing. Capitalism is evil, diversity is all-important and anything that could even vaguely be considered hate speech is to be rooted out and destroyed – these are the principles that drive our public services. In the meantime, government policy is dictated to by think-tanks and lobbyists dedicated to special interests – and funded by the rich and powerful.  No wonder the country is so divided.

There is no question that the logistics of leaving the EU will not be easy, and that the process will take time. Negotiating trade deals with the EU and with non-EU countries, and agreeing which European institutions we wish to remain part of and which we wish to leave, are not processes that can happen overnight, nor should they be rushed. But the referendum to decide whether or not Britain wished to remain part of the EU, was legal, and those who voted, did so in good faith that their vote would be counted. The voting papers explicitly stated that the government would implement the decision of the British people.   For the government to even suggest that the decision should not be implemented, either on the grounds that it is too difficult, or too risky to the economy, or simply “the wrong decision”, would amount to a betrayal of our democratic process the likes of which we have never before seen.

Our current democratic process is shaky at best. The extent to which public policy is decided by those lobbying on behalf of the rich and powerful, should not be underestimated. Whether or not our government implements Brexit, will be the litmus test – it is absolutely clear that the rich and powerful are lining up to defeat Brexit, and if they are allowed to do so, there can no longer be any illusion about who really runs the country. So while Remainers may cheer at getting their way on continued EU membership, their cheers will turn to bitter disappointment at realising just how little influence they have over how their country is governed. The day that Brexit is defeated will be the day any illusion of living in a democracy dies.

 

 

 

Posted in Brexit, politics | Tagged , | 23 Comments

Think the Dementia Tax is unfair? Think again

Remember the Dementia Tax scandal during the recent general election campaign? Remember Labour – the hypocrites – banging on about how unfair it was that those who become ill with dementia will have to sell their homes to pay for care whereas those who get cancer are treated for free on the NHS?

Well yes, that is rather unfair but it’s the current process, which has been in place for years. Anybody requiring care in a care home currently has to sell their home to pay for care if they don’t have sufficient cash assets to do so.   Only once the value of their assets (including their home) drops below £23,500 do they stop paying – at this stage, the council steps in.

The Conservative proposals were to raise the level at which people stop paying for care, to £100,000. So for those currently paying for residential social care, this would actually be an improvement, allowing them to hold onto a larger proportion of their life savings, which could then be passed onto their children after their death.

The key change with the dementia tax was with regards to those currently receiving social care in their own homes (which, for the most part, will not be those with dementia but will be those with other long-term illnesses who are still able to live at home but require daily care and support in their homes).

Currently, if you are being cared for in your own home, the value of your home does not get taken into account when assessing whether or not you can afford to pay for care. So if you’re living in a home worth £1 million but your cash assets are worth less than £23,500 you don’t pay for care at all, and can leave the home to your children when you die. In contrast, somebody who owns a home worth significantly less, with no cash assets, who has to be cared for in a care home, not only has to pay for their own care, but has to sell their home to do so.

Need to pay for care but struggling to sell your home?  No problem – you can enter into a Deferred Payment Arrangement with the council, at a setup cost of a few thousand pounds to cover legal and administrative costs, with daily interest charged at around 2% (way above the current base rate) to be repaid either when you’ve sold the house, or when you die.

Ask yourself if that is fair. Now let me throw in an extra fact. Those who pay for their own care get charged a premium over and above the “real cost” of care, in order to subsidise those who are paid for by the council. So a bed in a care home may cost the council £800 a week – but if an elderly resident is self-funding, they may be charged £1200 a week for that same bed. The difference is used to subsidise not only those living in care homes who are not able to pay for their own care, but also those being cared for at home, who are not paying for their own care.

So just to recap – under the current system, somebody who owns a house worth, say, £200,000, can be forced to sell that house to pay for care. The same goes for somebody who owns no property but has cash savings of more than £23,500. The money they get charged will pay not only for their own care, but will also be used to subsidise others who don’t pay, including those living in million-pound houses being cared for at home.

The Tories wish to change that system so that everybody who can afford to pay for care, does – regardless of whether that care takes place in their own home or in a care home.   Spread the burden of social care more evenly across society, in other words. And Labour, which calls itself the party “for the many, not the few” chose not only not to support the policy, but to attack it and paint it as less fair than the current system.

It is not remotely fair that some people become ill in old age and require long-term care whereas others do not. But that is a fact of life which we just have to deal with in the best way possible – and surely the fairest way in which to do so, is to ensure that everybody who can afford to pay, does. The current system, which allows those living in ludicrously expensive houses to be subsidised by those whose total assets are much fewer, is the most spectacularly unfair system I have come across.

Bring on the dementia tax. Do it now.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in politics, social care | Leave a comment

Is there really any point to #MeToo?

I’m not usually one to jump on the bandwagon as far as social media awareness campaigns are concerned.  All those posts on Facebook or Twitter asking me to update my profile picture to show solidarity with a cause, or share or retweet something to raise awareness – usually I just roll my eyes and keep on scrolling.

Because firstly, I hate being told what to like, share or retweet – the whole point of social media is for everybody to share what matters to them, not what somebody else decides should matter.  And I really hate the underlying implication of so many of these campaigns – that if you don’t update your profile picture, or you don’t share or retweet, then you’re a cruel, selfish individual who clearly doesn’t care about the issue at hand.

And secondly, what’s the point?  2 million people updating their Facebook profile picture to show solidarity with the latest city affected by a terrorist attack, or to raise awareness for breast cancer, at the end of the day makes absolutely no difference to the underlying causes.

So why, then, did I find myself compelled to add my own “Me Too” post to the hundreds of thousands already on Twitter and Facebook?

For those unaware of what “Me Too” refers to – it is a response to the actress Alyssa Milano’s suggestion, that if every woman who has found herself subjected to sexual harassment or sexual assault were to post “Me Too” it would give a sense of the scale of the problem.  And while Milano’s post was prompted by the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal, the women posting “Me too” in response are not talking just about Weinstein-style abuses of power – they are talking about the wider issue of sexual assault and harassment, in an attempt to highlight just how many women have experienced such issues in their lifetime.

For two short words, they proved surprisingly difficult to post.  I typed the words into Facebook, hovered over the “Post” button, then deleted them.  Then I typed them again, deleted them again, closed down Facebook.  Reopened Facebook, typed the words again, deleted them again.  Stared long and hard at my post settings, which are currently set to “Public”.  If I’m going to post these two words, add my voice to this campaign, do I really want this post to be public?  Maybe I should change it to Friends only?  But surely the whole point of the campaign is that it’s meant to be public?

Besides, when I say “Me too” what am I saying?  I’m not known for cryptic posts – I tend to make my thoughts and feelings as clear as can be – so how will my friends interpret those two little words?  Will they think I’m saying I’ve been raped? (I’m not).  Or will they think I’m complaining about having been cat-called in the street, or about a bloke being a bit too gropey on the dancefloor?  Well yes, of course those things have happened to me but no, I personally wouldn’t class those as abusive (though I accept some women would, and some of those posting “Me Too” are referring to that sort of behaviour).

What I am talking about, is having my repeated “No” fall on deaf ears.   About an encounter that I definitely did not want, and made it clear I did not want, but ended up allowing through fear that to resist further would result in him becoming angry and hurting me.  A friend that I mentioned it to afterwards told me it was rape.  I couldn’t allow myself to think of it that way.  I still don’t.  I have always seen rape as an act of violence – this was not that.  And of course I blamed myself.   Had I somehow led him on? Was it my fault for inviting him in?  For not resisting more forcefully?

No – this was not rape.  There was absolutely no way I would ever report it.  Far easier to just chalk it up as a bad experience and move on.

But that wasn’t the only incident I was thinking of when I wrote “Me too”.  It was certainly the worst, and thankfully the only one of its kind, but there was also a time many years ago, when I was waitressing, and a drunk customer put his hand up the back of my skirt as I stood at the table behind him attempting to take their order.  I told my manager, who went straight over to the guy and told him that if he ever did something like that again he would call the police.  One of the waiters was told to take over serving both tables and nothing further was said about it.  To be honest, at the time I was more shocked than offended – it was just such a brazen thing to do.  But I never wore that skirt to work again.  Not that it was particularly short – the hemline was just above my knee – but its loose shape had made it very easy for him to stick his hand up the back.

Scrolling through all the “Me too” tweets on Twitter, many of which specify exactly the offence the tweeter is referring to, it’s clear that the two words “Me too” encompass an entire spectrum of assault, abuse and harassment.  From catcalling, to groping, to men who don’t take no for an answer, to bosses, clients or colleagues who make inappropriate suggestive comments in what should be a professional environment, or who offer a professional leg up in return for a leg-over, the catalogue of inappropriate and offensive behaviours that women (and some men) find themselves subject to is quite alarming.

Which is, in itself, problematic – it’s all very well hundreds of thousands of women saying “Me too” but they’re not all talking about the same thing.   There is a vast difference between being cat-called, and being raped or sexually assaulted.  So if everybody is using the same two words to describe such a vast array of experiences, how does that bring us any closer to understanding the scale of the problem?  And even if we were to get a full picture of the types of abuse that women experience throughout their lives, how does that bring us any closer to preventing such abuse?

The thing that is very important to point out, is that despite the huge number of women speaking out, the majority of men are perfectly decent and wouldn’t dream of harassing or assaulting a woman.   And despite the hyperbolic language used by some commentators, most women do not face abuse on a day-to-day basis.  The two encounters I’ve recounted above stick in my mind for the very reason that they are so out of the ordinary.

But the number of women objecting to, or pouring scorn on, those posting “Me Too” is also worth talking about.  Accusations of attention-seeking and bandwagons, invariably accompany causes such as this – which in turn makes it harder for every woman who has a “Me Too” story in mind, to actually type those two words.  Is her story worthy of a “Me Too”, she will ask herself?   If it wasn’t rape, should she just keep quiet, for fear that she may be accused of attention-seeking, or worse, of capitalising on the misery of those who have been raped or sexually assaulted?

My decision to finally post those two words was certainly not through any need for attention.  But it was in response to seeing friends posting the words – if they could be brave enough to speak up, then why couldn’t I?  In the fight for sexual equality, women are often our own worst enemies – our reluctance to talk openly about the experiences we have had, is what causes women, and particularly younger women, to feel that maybe it is something they have done wrong, that has caused the man to behave as he has.  Both of the experiences I mentioned above happened many years ago, when I was much younger and much less experienced in the ways of men – for a number of years after the first encounter, I would blurt out “I’m not going to sleep with you” to any man who got a bit too flirtatious, so determined was I not to allow any mixed signals to lead to a repeat experience.  Which stopped many a potential romance in its tracks, so effective was it in killing the conversation.

The problem with all of this is that there are so many grey areas. No always means no, but while one woman may object to a man putting his hand on her butt during a slow-dance, another woman may welcome it. A woman who gets repeatedly cat-called will see it as abusive, while one who has just come out of the hairdresser and gets wolf-whistled as she walks past a building site, may find an extra spring in her step, and a smile on her face at the implication that she looks as good as she feels. We can’t legislate for every encounter between men and women – nor would we wish to. But by being a bit more willing to speak up about behaviour that is unacceptable – that is threatening, or demeaning – I would hope that we can gradually bring about an end to the culture of silence that enables bullies to get away with their behaviour. So yes, #MeToo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in feminism | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Privilege – the ‘wokest’ way to divide society

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Oh God, people are sharing yet another earnest video on Facebook which attempts to explain ‘privilege’ to the uninitiated.   You don’t even have to watch it to know what you’re in for – after all, it’s published by a group called “Woke folks” (for those unaware of the lingo, the term “woke” is used as a byword for social awareness – the Urban Dictionary defines it as “a state of perceived intellectual superiority one gains from reading the Huffington Post”).

In this video, a group of people are lined up to start a race, and the organiser tells them that before the race starts, he’s going to read out a list of conditions, and for each condition that a person meets, they get to take two steps forward.   First, anybody whose parents are still married gets to take two steps forward. Then anybody who grew up with a father figure in the home. Then anybody who had access to private education. And so on, through numerous other conditions, until eventually, those who have had “privileged” upbringings, who have never had to help their parents out with the bills or worry about where the next meal is coming from, are midway across the field before the race has even started, while a few unlucky people are left still standing on the starting line. Naturally, the overwhelming majority of those left on the starting line are people of colour, and every one of the “privileged” people midway across the field is white.

At this stage, the organiser tells those at the front of the field to turn round and look at those behind them – and gives them a brief lecture about how all of the statements he’s made that have allowed them to progress across the field, have nothing to do with what they, themselves, have done. All of those advantages they’ve received have nothing to do with decisions they’ve made or actions they’ve taken. As he explains to them, the fact that they have a head start, doesn’t mean the others don’t still have to race. There are no excuses – everybody has to give it their best shot – but the reality is that whoever ends up winning needs to recognise that “it’s only because you had this big a head start, that you’re possibly going to win this race called life”.

Excuse me while I throw up – or hurl something at the wall. This video pushes every single one of my buttons. Not because I don’t ‘get’ the concept of privilege – but because I do.

Because I’d have to be either a moron or a psychopath not to.

And the fact that so many people are sharing this, in the earnest belief that this will bring people to a greater understanding of the unfairness of society, and in that way bring about greater equality and harmony, is utterly heartbreaking and horribly demoralising.

It’s heartbreaking because it exposes so clearly the way in which those of a liberal mindset misjudge their conservative counterparts. Jonathan Haidt, in his brilliant book “The Righteous Mind” explains how, when conservatives are asked to explain liberal ideologies, they are usually able to do so fairly well – they may not agree with the liberal viewpoints but they understand what they are. When liberals, on the other hand, are asked to explain conservative viewpoints, they invariably attribute horrible motives to conservative views. In the liberal mind, conservatives are just selfish, uncaring people who have no empathy whatsoever for anybody else. They fail to understand that conservatives have just as much empathy as they do, that they care just as much about fixing the injustices of the world, but that they just have different beliefs about how to go about fixing those injustices.

This video is a classic example of the liberal belief that if they just “explain” privilege to conservatives, maybe the blinkers will finally fall off and we will “see” the injustice to which we have previously been blind.

The problem is, we already see injustice. We know that those of us who are lucky enough to be born in a wealthy western country, to married parents who can afford to raise us, have a far better start in life than those who are born in poverty, or to single mothers. And we know that with only a small number of exceptions, those born white have an easier start in life than those who are born black or brown.

But here’s the problem. Well, two problems actually.

Firstly, while we know all this, there’s nothing we can do to change it for the current generation. We can fight for racial equality and we can fight to end poverty but nothing is going to change overnight and nothing I or anybody else can say or do, will make the person who grew up with four siblings in a one-room apartment with a single mother feel any better about their upbringing. I can sympathise, I can try to provide help with the person’s current circumstances, but I will never be able to change the facts of my upbringing or of theirs. I can never erase that ‘privilege’. And constantly asking me to acknowledge it is like badgering a train conductor to issue repeated apologies for the lateness of your train – it’s annoying, it’s pointless and ultimately it makes neither party feel any better about themselves.

The second problem, is that once you start assigning ‘privilege’ to things that are out of individual control, where do you stop? How do you decide who has the greater privilege when deciding between a white person who grew up being passed around from one foster home to another, who never had proper schooling, and was always in trouble with the law, and a black person who grew up in a stable family environment, completed their schooling and went on to university? Leaving race out altogether – how do you decide who has the greater privilege: somebody whose parents are still married but who have been violently abusive towards each other for years, or somebody whose parents are divorced and possibly happily remarried to other people? How do you tell a woman caring for a husband paralysed in a motorbike accident, or somebody who worked their socks off to afford their first home only to have it destroyed by a natural disaster, that they have greater privilege than somebody else simply because they went to university and the other person didn’t?

But the biggest issue I have with this particular video, is the entire analogy of the race – “the race of life” as the organiser terms is.

Life is not a race. It’s not – nor should it ever be – any kind of competition.   Encouraging people to view life in that way, to view their fellow citizens first and foremost as competitors, is possibly the most destructive mindset I can comprehend. It is this obsession with “privilege” – with highlighting the myriad areas in which one person has an advantage or a disadvantage relative to another – that is setting neighbour against neighbour, and turning friends into enemies, across the western world.   If you want to understand why the world seems such a hateful place at the moment, why everybody seems to be at everybody else’s throat, look no further than “privilege”.

In the immortal words of Aerosmith, “Life’s a journey, not a destination”. It’s at times random, unfair, difficult, wondrous, exciting, exhausting, rewarding, demoralizing – and all too soon it is over. If we spend all of our time apologising to those whom we perceive to be less privileged than ourselves, while resenting those with greater privilege, not only do we create an unpleasant environment for ourselves, but we also end up wasting our energies on events that are in the past.

None of us can do anything about our privilege, or lack thereof. All we can do is make the best of the situation in which we find ourselves – and try to do our best to help those whose situation is worse than our own. So let’s stop obsessing about privilege, and focus on empathy – because that’s something that even we “horrible” conservatives can understand.

Posted in identity politics, politics | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Could Hollywood have Trump to thank for the collapse of the casting couch?

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So the famous Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein, has been exposed as a sexual predator who seemingly has a penchant for inviting young, attractive actresses into his hotel room to discuss ‘business’ before appearing in either a bathrobe or his birthday suit and suggesting they may like to give him a massage. And those are the less serious allegations – more serious allegations of rape and sexual assault are currently under investigation in both New York and London.

I mean, seriously? Are we seriously supposed to be surprised at this news? For as long as I have been alive, the Hollywood casting couch has been a thing of legend, both inside and outside the industry. No blockbuster novel set in Hollywood would be complete without a fat, rich, powerful middle-aged director promising fame in return for sexual favours – and a heroine who either stands true to her principles and refuses to indulge him, eventually, through hard work and talent alone, making it big on her own merits, or who cynically decides that a few minutes of revulsion are a small price to pay for fame and fortune.

Weinstein’s behaviour has clearly been an open secret in Hollywood for years. Seth McFarlane’s quip at the 2013 Oscars ceremony, in which he stated “Congratulations, you five ladies no longer need to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein” – and the knowing laughter from the audience in response – point to an industry that was well aware of, and complicit in, Weinstein’s treatment of young actresses.  And even prior to this, in 2012, actress Jane Krakowski, in an episode of the comedy show “30 Rock”, quipped “Oh please, I’m not afraid of anyone in showbusiness. I turned down intercourse with Harvey Weinstein on no less than three occasions… out of five”.

So let’s stop pretending that what’s notable about this story is what a shock it is. No, what’s notable is the fact that finally the tide of public opinion has clearly shifted sufficiently to enable Weinstein’s accusers the confidence to go on record about his behaviour, where previously nobody would.   The New York Times, who initially broke the allegations a week ago, admit that they had the story in 2004 but couldn’t publish it because nobody would go on record. So what has changed now?

The reason Harvey Weinstein – and, let’s face it, doubtless many other powerful media executives – got away with such behaviour for so long, was because he was protected by an industry that has always favoured fame, fortune and success above all else. And because that same industry has traditionally treated women as glamorous appendages – from the beautiful Bond girls who provide a brief distraction for James Bond, before, in most cases, being killed off by the villain, to Princess Leia in a gold bikini, chained to Jabba the Hut, to endless Hollywood romantic comedies in which a girl stumbles through various disastrous relationships before finally being rescued by Mr Right – Hollywood, more than any other industry, has always thrived on traditional gender stereotypes.

But gradually, the weight of public sentiment has forced Hollywood to question those stereotypes. From “Private Benjamin” in 1980, to “Working Girl” in 1988, “Shirley Valentine” in 1989 and then the huge success of the 1991 movie “Thelma and Louise”, gradually it became clear that audiences were more than ready for movies starring strong female characters. More recently, with Kathryn Bigelow becoming the first female director to win the Oscar for Best Director, and the movie “Bridesmaids” winning critical acclaim and box office success with an all-female cast, it is becoming increasingly clear that the days of female actors having to flatter the egos of powerful male directors in order to make their way in the industry, are numbered.

The other thing that is slowly changing, is society’s tendency to blame the victim, or to dismiss the seriousness of sexual assault claims. The casual sexism of the 1970s and 1980s, when women were expected to just put up with men casually groping their breasts or fondling their buttocks, knowing that to complain about such behaviour would see them branded as prudish, has gradually given way to an understanding that such behaviour is completely unacceptable. And the constant reminders from the feminist lobby, that no matter how scantily a woman may be clad, that does not mean she is “asking for it”, are slowly permeating the general consciousness.

Weinstein’s behaviour has clearly been well-known in Hollywood for years. And while many around him have evidently spent years trying to cover up his indiscretions, and prevent the publication of any allegations, the resistance movement has been slowly growing, gathering strength, gradually chipping away at Weinstein’s defences, until the balance of power shifted sufficiently for those people to feel confident in going public.   Jane Krakowski’s quip on “30 Rock” and Seth McFarlane’s comment at the Oscars are not so much indications of Hollywood’s complicity in Weinstein’s behaviour, but rather are proof that individuals have been trying to blow the whistle for years.   It is only now, when the shifting of public sentiment in favour of women’s rights has aligned with the waning of Weinstein’s individual power, that those voices have been heard.

As Emma Thomson has remarked, Weinstein is just the tip of the iceberg. It would be naïve to think that this scandal will mark the end of Hollywood’s “casting couch” culture, and that young actresses will no longer find themselves propositioned by older, successful directors promising to make them famous in return for sexual favours. And we will likely read further allegations in the coming weeks about other stars who either aided and abetted Weinstein in his exploitation, or have themselves been accused of sexual harassment of young women (and possibly young men, too).   But the tide of public – and Hollywood – sentiment has clearly turned.

Which brings me on to the biggest irony of this entire story. This is only a theory – and it’s not even mine – but according to this article in the Weekly Standard, if Hillary Clinton had won the US Presidential election, the story about Harvey Weinstein would likely never have been broken. The reason being that the ties between Bill Clinton and Harvey Weinstein are so strong, that had the story been broken during a Clinton presidency, it would have been too embarrassing for the president – and the media and political powers-that-be would never let that happen, and so would have continued to protect Weinstein as they have done for years. With Donald Trump as president, on the other hand, no such worries existed – even if Donald Trump were proved to have a strong friendship with Harvey Weinstein, it would be impossible for these allegations to hurt Trump any further than the “grab them by the pussy” comments already have done. The fact that all of those actresses who have publicly declared that they despise Trump for his comments about women, in the end, in some small way, have his presidency to thank for the truth emerging about Harvey Weinstein, is almost too ironic for words.

 

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Marriage – who says it takes two?

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It seems there is a slowly growing trend among single, 30- and 40-something women, of marrying themselves.

Yes, you did read that correctly – in a bid to prove to themselves, and the world at large, that they have no need of a husband in order to feel complete, some women are going so far as to buy a wedding dress, book a venue, invite all their friends and relatives, and engage in a ceremony in which they vow to love, honour and cherish themselves. Followed, of course, by a party, dancing, cake and even, in some cases, an exotic ‘honeymoon’.

Far from being the glorious celebration of singledom that it is clearly designed to be, it all just strikes me as desperately sad. For the message it sends is not “I’m happy being single, and I don’t need to marry somebody else to be complete” but rather “Marriage (or the idea of it) is so important to me that I would rather marry myself than wait one minute longer for a man to marry me”.

It also displays a complete lack of understanding of the difference between a wedding and a marriage. For what these women really want, is not a marriage at all – it is a wedding. Specifically, the fairy-tale wedding that so many little girls dream of – the white dress, the flowers, the ceremony, the champagne, the proud father escorting them down the aisle, the mother wiping away tears of joy, everybody commenting about how beautiful they look in their dress. The fact that they don’t have a handsome prince with whom to exchange vows will not deter these women from having the wedding they have dreamed about all of their lives.

Marriage, on the other hand, is no fairytale. Even the happiest couples will admit that marriage takes work, and endless compromise. It’s all very well to vow on your wedding day to love, honour and cherish your spouse, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, for as long as you both shall live, but the number of marriages that fail after just a few years or even a few months, are testament to how difficult people find these vows to stick to in reality.

Do women marrying themselves promise to remain faithful only to themselves, forsaking all others, as long as they live, I wonder? Somehow I doubt it – after all, it’s one thing to put on a great show of your independence and happy single status, but quite another to publicly declare to all your friends and family that you are essentially taking a vow of chastity.   What then, when two years later you meet the man of your dreams and have to explain that you can’t be with him because you don’t wish to be unfaithful to yourself?

Surely the way to celebrate singledom, to prove that you are happy by yourself and that you don’t need a husband to complete you, is simply to carry on with your life as normal, doing exactly what you wish to do without any need for friends and family to validate your choices? Rather than wasting money on a dress, a ceremony and a party, instead go travelling, or take up a new hobby, or even simply stay home, surrounded by cats, and watch television, if that’s what makes you happy. Because if you find yourself having to throw an expensive party to prove to yourself and your friends how happy you are being single, chances are you’re not.

 

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