40 Hail Marys won’t wipe away this confession

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I’m not sure what’s more shocking – the fact that Liam Neeson has admitted he spent a week, 40 years ago, looking to murder a black man – any black man – in revenge for the rape of a friend of his – or the fact that so many people are jumping to his defence and praising him for his honesty!

Excuse me?  This is a joke, right?

Firstly, what on earth possessed Neeson to open up about the fact that he even had such thoughts?  Is he so monumentally self-obsessed that he doesn’t realise just how vile his confession is?  Has his Roman Catholic upbringing somehow lulled him into some false sense that the whole world is a confessional and that as long as he says 30 Hail Marys and 10 Our Fathers and truly repents, an all-loving God and the general public will surely forgive him?

Incredibly, it seems there are some who will.  Some, it seems, are so impressed by his honesty that they are willing to overlook the vile, casual racism to which he has just confessed (while, crucially, denying he is a racist).   And they’re all singing Hallelujahs at the repentance of this former sinner – yes, 40 years ago he had evil racist thoughts but he has seen the error of his ways and dedicated his life to good acting and has he mentioned he’s not a racist? After all, if the man who’d raped his friend had been “Irish or Scot or a Brit or Lithuanian” he insists he would have reacted the same way.  Except, of course, he didn’t ask his friend about the nationality or accent of her rapist. No, he asked her what colour skin the man had.  And while we’re on the nationality of the rapist – who’s to say he wasn’t British? Does Liam believe black people can’t be British?  Racist much, Liam?

I wrote a few months ago about the awful case of Kriss Donald, a young Scottish teenager who was abducted, tortured and murdered for the simple fact that he was white. His attackers, a group of Asian gang members, were looking for a white lad – any white lad – to kill in revenge for a perceived slight by another white lad.

That case rightly shocked and appalled everybody who heard about it.  His attackers, rightly, were caught and jailed for life.  But apart from the fact that Neeson didn’t actually act on the urges he felt – for which we all, at least, can be grateful – his instincts were no different from those of Kriss Donald’s murderers.

Racism is racism, whichever race it’s directed at.  And it’s hard to find a more textbook example of racism, than somebody seeking to target an innocent member of the public, purely based on their skin colour, as a proxy for the actual target of one’s rage.

Given the supposed depth of his anger at the time, Neeson can perhaps be congratulated for his self-control in not giving it free reign, and resisting the urge to actually kill an innocent black man.  But to applaud him for his honesty, to shrug off his confession as “just the way things were 40 years ago” is a step too far.

The things we are truly ashamed of, and appalled by, we keep to ourselves.  Or if we’re religious, we keep them between ourselves and our God.  In the same way that truth games teach us relatively early on in life, not to reveal our deepest, darkest secrets but instead to reveal the secrets which are just embarrassing enough to satisfy our audience, so I can’t help feeling that Neeson revealed this tidbit in the expectation that while it may shock a few people, ultimately it wasn’t that big a deal.  And crucially, it would give some valued extra publicity to his latest movie (which is, after all, about revenge).

So what, then, is truly the most shocking thing about this story?  The fact that Liam Neeson has admitted to wanting to kill a black man?  The fact that by admitting it so publicly, he’s letting us know he really doesn’t think it’s that big a deal?  Or the fact that so many people agree with him?  Heaven help us.


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Passion Devoid of Reason

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Astonishing scenes in this week’s edition of “Liddle’s Got Issues” as Rod Liddle turns up outside Parliament and attempts to engage some of the anti-Brexit protesters in conversation.

Some of these people, such as Steve Bray, nicknamed “Stop Brexit Man” are so committed to the cause of stopping Brexit that they have been turning up outside Parliament with their placards, draped in EU flags, almost every day for the past year, or even longer.

So you’d think that given the opportunity to speak to the Sunday Times about their concerns, they would leap at the opportunity.

But no. When approached by Liddle, they turn their backs, hide behind their placards and flat-out refuse to engage.

Now, it is fair to assume they know that Mr Liddle himself voted for Brexit.  So of course they can be expected to be a bit wary as to how any conversation about Brexit will go.  But he is there in his capacity as a reporter for the Sunday Times, accompanied by a cameraman and politely asking questions any decent journalist would ask of any protester.  Surely, if they are sufficiently committed to their cause to turn up outside Parliament and protest every day, they should be eager to articulate their reasons and engage in debate about that cause?

Sadly not. And in the interests of fairness, Liddle points out that were he to approach any of the pro-Brexit protesters who usually can also be found outside Parliament on a daily basis, he would likely find a similar unwillingness to engage.

This is what is so terribly wrong with our politics at the moment.  The reason, I suspect, why these protesters were so unwilling to engage, was that they actually can’t articulate their reasons for wanting to stop Brexit.  They feel, with every fibre of their being, that Brexit is wrong – but they can’t explain why.  And sadly, many of those who voted for Brexit and who still passionately defend it, would similarly be unable to articulate their reasoning.

How is it that one can feel so passionately about an issue without being able to explain why?  Surely that passion should translate into ensuring one fully understands, and can debate, at least some of the underlying issues?  Brexit is hellishly complicated – we all know that – so why is it so hard for people to admit to themselves that actually they don’t fully understand all the issues and that the passion they claim to feel, either for or against the EU, may in fact be a proxy for some other deep dissatisfaction in their lives?

I am probably one of the more staunch defenders of Brexit, yet even I would not claim to be sufficiently passionate about it, to actually turn up outside Parliament every day.  I am always more than willing to attempt to articulate my reasons for believing in Brexit – but I will also always admit that there are areas of our relationship with the EU about which I know next to nothing.  I will also always admit that there are risks, as well as benefits, to leaving.

But those who turn up outside Parliament each day, despite their supposed passion for and dedication to their cause, don’t actually seem to want to engage in debate about any of the issues, nor attempt to change others’ minds.  They just want to keep shouting, and waving their banners.  Is it narcissism?  A desire to see themselves on television and in newspaper reports, to be able to brag to friends and relatives that while others may have taken a back seat, they played a part in such a significant historical event?  Or is it a deep-seated loneliness and lack of purpose in their everyday lives, that finds relief in a shared cause and the camaraderie they encounter among their fellow protesters?

Whatever it is, it’s hard to believe that it actually has anything to do with the EU. It’s passion devoid of reason – and sadly it’s becoming all too common a feature of our current political debate.



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The wrongs of “trans” rights

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The Sunday Times today reports that Jeremy Corbyn has had a row with his domestic policy advisor, Lachlan Stuart, over the fact that Stuart has suggested that “trans women remain biologically male”.  The article goes on to quote a Labour spokesperson who said “A Labour government will reform the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act 2010 to ensure they protect trans people by changing the protected characteristic of ‘gender assignment’ to ‘gender identity’.”

Oh dear – where to start.  Let’s start with the word – or rather non-word – “trans”.  “Trans” on its own is meaningless – and I would argue the single greatest reason we have ended up in this gender-bending mess is the failure of media and commentators to distinguish between “transsexual” (which is a protected characteristic in law) and “transgender” (which is not).

The 2010 Equality Act could not be clearer.   “Gender assignment” (to which the Labour party spokesperson referred) is not a protected characteristic.  “Gender Reassignment” is.  The Act states the following:

Gender reassignment

(1)A person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment if the person is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.

(2)A reference to a transsexual person is a reference to a person who has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.

(3)In relation to the protected characteristic of gender reassignment—

(a)a reference to a person who has a particular protected characteristic is a reference to a transsexual person;

(b)a reference to persons who share a protected characteristic is a reference to transsexual persons.

 That’s pretty clear.  Only someone who is in the process of changing, has changed, or plans to change their sex – in other words a transsexual person – is protected under the terms of Gender Reassignment.   Someone who is biologically male, has no intention of undergoing sexual reassignment surgery and simply wishes to be referred to, and treated, as a woman, is not transsexual but transgender – and as such, cannot claim protection under this, or any other section of the Act.

Yet much of the recent “trans rights” debate has focused on the very real difficulties faced by transsexuals, and argued that “transgender” people face exactly the same issues and deserve exactly the same protections.  Or even that “trans women” deserve all the same protections as biological women.  Well sorry, but no they don’t.

The legal protections defined in the Equality Act are all based on biological sex, and on the physiological attributes of sex.  They are not based on “gender identity” – and crucially, never can be, without removing the existing sex-based protections.

As long as we allow sex and gender to diverge – as long as we allow that somebody can be biologically male yet “identify” as a woman – we will always have to choose whether to protect sex or gender.  We cannot simultaneously protect both – to give just one example, in order to introduce a law that says anyone who “identifies” as female has to be considered female, we would have to override the right of those who have female anatomy to only be treated by doctors with female anatomy, and the rights of biological females not to have to share shelter or lodgings with biological males.  As laughable as this may sound, such cases have already started to appear in our news, such as the NHS being forced to issue an apology to a woman who asked for her smear test to be carried out by a female nurse and found herself being called in by a clearly male-bodied nurse, who insisted that he was not male but “transgender”.   Or the male-bodied “female” rapist incarcerated in a female prison, who went on to sexually assault other women in that prison.

So we need to start insisting that when journalists, broadcasters and activists talk about “trans rights”, they specify whether they are talking about transsexual people, or transgender.  And point out that the two are in conflict.  When the Labour party state that they intend to change the protected characteristic of ‘gender assignment’ [sic] to ‘gender identity’, they need to be forced to admit that this means removing the existing sex-based protections enjoyed by women and transsexual people under the Act.

Mr Corbyn’s policy advisor clearly knows, and understands, the differences between sex and gender.  Mr Corbyn himself – and many others in the Labour party – not so much, it seems.

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Isn’t it time we tried to understand the vote to Remain?

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Since the vote for Brexit, countless articles and opinion pieces have attempted to understand and deconstruct the reasons behind the vote to leave.  But surely what we really should have been doing over the past two and a half years, was trying to understand the reasons why 48% of the country voted to remain?

The decision, after all, was to leave.  A government truly committed to delivering on the result of the referendum, had no need to analyse the reasons behind the vote – it simply had to implement it. Understanding the reasons why 48% of the country did not back that decision, was far more important – for how else could the government expect to assuage the concerns of that 48%, and attempt to get them on side, if not by at least attempting to understand their position?

I’m sure many people reading this will be incredulous that I can even suggest that no attempt has been made to understand the Remain mindset.  With BBC, Sky, ITV and Channel 4 panel shows almost always dominated by Remainers, many would argue we’ve heard nothing but Remain opinions. And that is true – but there has been precious little interrogation of those opinions.  There is a vast difference between hearing an opinion expressed, and actually understanding the mindset that led to that opinion.

By contrast, we have had endless analysis and interpretation of Brexiter opinions. We have been told that when Brexiters say they voted for greater sovereignty, they really were voting to control immigration, that Brexiters’ objections to the EU’s plans for federalism and Ever Closer Union, are actually founded in a deep-seated nostalgia tinged with racism, a longing to turn back the clock and stop the march of economic progress.  We have been told that the vote for Brexit wasn’t about Brussels or the EU at all, but was a protest vote against the Westminster Establishment.  And we have been told over and over again that nobody voted to become poorer as a result of Brexit.

But what about those who voted for Remain?  What would prompt otherwise intelligent people, to look at the failures caused by economic and political union and think “yes, let’s have more of that”? We often hear about how nobody voted to become poorer – but surely, looking at what has happened and is continuing to happen to the economies of southern Europe, and the impact it is having on the wider Eurozone, that is exactly what Remainers voted for?

When voters in Scotland and Corbynistas say that they would rather be ruled by Brussels than by Westminster, what is that if not a protest vote against the Westminster elite?

Could it be that Remainers, while outwardly basing all their arguments on economics and the need to maintain a close trading relationship with the EU, actually care far more about identity than about economics?  Because surely if they actually looked closely at the long term economic prospects within the EU, they would see that leaving is the best option?

To truly understand Remainer sentimentality, we have only to look at their reaction to the recent letter, written by German politicians, celebrities and business leaders, and published in the Times, imploring Britain to stay in the EU.  If Britain were to leave the EU, the letter’s signatories claimed, they would miss “going to the pub after work to drink an ale”, “driving on the left-hand side of the road”, “tea with milk”, “seeing the panto at Christmas” and most of all “the British people – our friends across the Channel”.

I was flabbergasted on reading this letter.  Britain is not leaving Europe – we are not picking up our small island and moving it to Outer Mongolia, and we are certainly not cutting off ties to our European neighbours.  The Germans – and the members of all 26 other EU member states – will still be more than welcome to visit, drink our ale, put milk in their tea, drive on the left hand side of the road and watch panto.  And we will still consider them our friends.

But to so many Remainers, Europe and the EU are indivisible.  They genuinely do see the vote to leave the EU, as a vote to leave Europe – as nonsensical as that idea is.  And we Brexiters have clearly not done enough to unpick their reasoning, and to challenge that highly damaging view.  Whenever Remainers have wailed about how xenophobic the vote for Brexit was, how we are turning our backs on our European neighbours, we have of course responded that we are leaving the EU, not Europe, but we haven’t gone to the trouble of actually asking them to explain why it is that they see Europe as so inextricably tied up in the EU.

What do they think would happen, we should ask, if the EU were to collapse entirely? Do they honestly believe that the French would not still be French, that the Germans would not still be German? Do they genuinely believe that the French, the Germans, the Italians and every other EU member state would immediately take up arms against each other and that World War III would be unleashed?

Sadly, I suspect many of them do.  These are people who, for whatever reason, see their identity as European rather than British, and who furthermore see that European identity as wholly tied to the institutions and structures of the EU.  Without the EU, these people believe, all that is decent about human society will collapse.

This may sound laughable to those of us who voted for Brexit – and even to some of those who voted for Remain – but it is the only explanation I can see for the frankly unhinged behaviour of some of the more ardent Remainers who still believe they must do everything in their power to stop Brexit at any cost.   It is not Brexiters who need to be shown the errors in their thinking, and whose motivations need to be questioned and challenged – it is Remainers.  And the sooner we all start doing exactly that, the better.



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On WTO Brexit and Zero Tariffs

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James Delingpole recently came unstuck on the Daily Politics, under an intense grilling from Andrew Neil on the question of how Britain, trading under WTO terms, could expect to offer zero tariffs on imports while still having any leverage with which to negotiate favourable trade deals with countries such as the United States.

As Neil explained to Delingpole, WTO terms specify that we can’t set different tariffs for different countries – if we lower tariffs for one country’s imports, we have to lower them for all, so why would the US have any motivation to offer us a free trade deal if we are already taking their imports tariff-free?

It was a very good question, and one to which Delingpole, sadly, had to admit he couldn’t give an answer.  The article he wrote in response to the incident, is a masterclass in holding one’s hand up to one’s own mistakes, and could serve as a lesson to many others who in the same circumstances would have cried foul and tried to accuse Neil and the BBC of unfair bias. And while I applaud him for his honesty in simply saying “I don’t know the answer to that” rather than trying to bluster and avoid the question, as so many others would have done in the same circumstances, it is a great shame that he wasn’t able to take the question and run with it.

Now, I make no claim whatsoever to be a trade expert.  But here is what I would have said, had I been asked the same question. And yes, I am putting my tin hat on as I type this, in anticipation of all the responses I will undoubtedly receive, telling me how stupid I am to believe such nonsense.

“Well Andrew, obviously we wouldn’t lower tariffs on ALL imports to zero.  The whole point of international trade, which sadly many people seem to forget, is to exchange goods and services for mutual advantage.  So the UK wishes to import those goods which it doesn’t produce itself, while exporting those goods which it does produce, to countries that don’t.  The starting point for all deals of such nature, would be zero tariffs – the only reason to apply tariffs to imports would be to protect internal markets in goods that we already produce ourselves.

“So we would unilaterally lower tariffs on those goods which we don’t produce ourselves. And yes, that would then apply to all countries willing to export those goods to us.  But if the United States wish to sell us their beef and chicken (which we know they do) then they will have to negotiate a free trade deal with us – because we are quite capable of rearing our own beef and chicken, and have no need to buy it from the United States.  The same would apply to cars (which the Germans wish to sell us) and cheese (ditto the French) – if EU member states wish to sell us goods that we produce ourselves, it is in their interests to negotiate a free trade deal with us.  So we would keep the WTO tariffs on products such as beef, chicken, cheese and cars, while attempting to negotiate free trade deals with the EU, the US, Australia, Canada and any other country that wishes to trade with us”.

I realise, of course, that the above is a very simplistic explanation, and that the practicalities of deciding which products should be tariff-free and which should retain WTO tariffs, would be less than straightforward.  But we do have entire departments of government devoted to international trade, whom I’m pretty confident would be more than capable of working out and negotiating those details.  While the realities of globalization may make the intricacies of international trade fine and complicated to administer, I fear too often we lose sight of the fact that the overall principle is still as simple as it has ever been.  Buy what you don’t have enough of, sell what you have too much of.   Maybe if we went back to those principles, only buying what we actually need and producing for export only those goods which other countries actually wish to buy, we could even go some way to tackling the great waste debate.  Now that really would be an unexpected Brexit dividend.



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TERF wars

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Are you a TERF?

Well, if you believe that possession of a penis should preclude a person from entering female-only areas such as changing rooms, or being incarcerated in female prisons, or performing intimate personal examinations such as smear tests, on biological women, then you just find yourself being called one.

It’s been remarked, by a few of my friends, that I enjoy being contentious in my blog posts.  Of course I disagree.  I never set out to be contentious – I, like most people, believe my own views to be perfectly reasonable and am often mystified when friends tell me they disagree, and put forward counter-arguments which I would myself consider “contentious”.  But I will admit that fears that a topic may be contentious do not usually prevent me from tackling it in my blogs.

Except this one.  This is a topic that has fascinated me for some time, but which I have, until now, been too frightened and mystified to go near.  And for a long time I managed to convince myself that the rows between trans activists and so-called TERFS (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, i.e. anyone who believes that access to female-only spaces should be based on biological sex, rather than declared gender) were only really taking place online, that this whole crazy row was just a confection of social media and that this wasn’t having any impact on the real world.

But then the government opened up a consultation on proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, which would, if approved, allow a biological man to simply declare that he is a woman and have his birth certificate changed to reflect his sex as female, with no need for any kind of medical intervention or consultation whatsoever.  Likewise, a biological woman would be able to declare she is a man and have her birth certificate altered accordingly.    The consultation specifically dealt with questions relating to how these changes would impact areas such as access to women’s changing rooms, the rights of a woman to request a female doctor, women’s rights to be housed in female-only prisons and shelters, and the impact this could have on female sports.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  It sounds like something the Daily Mailwould make up – or more likely the Daily Mash, because surely this must be satire.

But of course it’s not satire.  It’s the logical conclusion of a gradual process by which the term “gender” was introduced as a way of differentiating between men and women not just on the basis of their biological sex, but on the basis of how masculine or feminine – or non-binary – they perceive themselves to be.  So somebody who is born male, with male chromosomes and male genitalia, may still feel more like a woman than a man and so may “identify” as a woman and wish to be treated as a woman.  Likewise someone who is born with female chromosomes and female genitalia may still identify as a male and wish to dress and be treated as a man.

So far so good – and I think up to this point nobody had too much of an issue with any of it, and nobody had yet been called a TERF.

But the issues started, as far as I can see, when the arguments progressed to suggestions that gender identity, because it is more all-encompassing than biological sex alone, should be the overriding means by which we should differentiate between men and women.

Some activists went further, essentially replacing gender with sex in their arguments, so that suddenly we were being told that biological sex is not binary but is on a spectrum.  Despite the fact that there are still only two possible chromosomal combinations that make up biological sex – either XX or XY – and that apart from a small number of intersex people, we are born with either male or female genitalia, some activists would still insist that “the science is settled” and that biological sex cannot simply be reduced to chromosomes and genitalia.

The arguments went further still.  Next we were told that because a person’s gender – rather than their biological sex – was the best determinant of their innate maleness or femaleness, it would be “transphobic” for a gay woman to refuse to have sex with a man who identified as a woman.  That’s right – gay women being told that if they don’t wish to have sex with someone who has a penis, they are transphobic.  It was round about this time that the term “TERF” originated.

And in the real world, what have we seen?  Well, in the UK we’ve seen a male-bodied rapist successfully argue to be moved to a female prison because he identifies as a female – only to go on and sexually assault other women in that prison.   And in Canada, a man named only as JY in official documents has lodged complaints against 16 separate beauticians for refusing to perform a Brazilian wax on him due to the fact that he has a penis and testicles.  This despite the fact that there is a separate, recognised procedure for waxing male genitalia (called a “Manzilian”, of course) which each of the beauticians explained he could get elsewhere but which they were not trained to perform.  JY argues that because he identifies as female their refusal to perform the Brazilian on him is discriminatory.

Whether JY’s motivation is money (he has offered to drop the lawsuits in exchange for $2500 from each of the women, most of whom can’t afford to hire lawyers to oppose him) or a more deep-seated hatred of women and desire to make a point, is unclear.  But the fact that Canadian human rights legislation appears to favour JY’s cause, above that of the women he is attempting to extort, is worrying in the extreme.

But back to the GRA consultation.  The reason the consultation was opened was because trans activists argued that the current process by which a transgender person can apply for a Gender Recognition certificate, to officially be recognised as the gender with which they identify, is too prolonged and is discriminatory.  It was argued that forcing transgender people to go through humiliating physical and psychological examinations in order to obtain an official diagnosis of gender dysphoria, has the result of treating them as if they are abnormal, or worse, diseased.

Personally, I have a great deal of sympathy with these arguments.   I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for somebody who feels sufficiently at odds with their biological sex to wish to live the rest of their lives as the opposite sex.  But it is the opposite SEX that they are asking to be recognised as – not simply a different gender.  And despite the arguments of certain trans activists, biological sex is still, for the most part, binary – and sex-based protections for women are in place specifically because of the biological differences between men and women, not because of how masculine or feminine (or non-binary) they may feel.

So while I can understand the government wanting to reduce discrimination against trans people, and will support any calls for trans women and men to be treated with the same respect and dignity that any other woman or man would expect, I cannot reconcile myself to those who argue that “trans women are women”, that the dictionary definition of woman as “adult human female” is discriminatory and transphobic, or that women who are concerned about losing their existing sex-based protections are simply transphobic TERFs.   I find those arguments not just contentious, but outright dangerous – not just to women, but to the cause of the majority of trans men and women who are not predatory or deviant, but who end up being demonised as such due to the actions of a small number of extraordinarily aggressive activists.

By all means, let’s talk about how we can make life easier for transgender people. But let’s not do it at the expense of women’s rights  – hard-won and constantly under attack by a small number of aggressive men who now, through the trans movement, have found a new loophole to exploit.   I don’t like the term TERF and I certainly don’t consider myself one – but I’m not going to let fear of being called one, prevent me from speaking out about the utter farce that certain elements of the trans rights movement have landed us in.



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The lost art of taking a punt

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In the supermarket wine aisle recently, I was distracted by the sight of a young woman next to me, repeatedly leaning in to the shelves to take close-up pictures of individual wine bottles with the camera on her phone.

What on earth was she up to?  I wondered. Was she some marketing spy sent in to snoop on exciting new varieties being stocked by individual supermarkets? “This one’s a 4.1” she suddenly announced – and as I quickly scanned the area around us to identify her companion, I spotted a young man, a few shelves further down, carrying out similar camera-phone scrutiny of the wine.   “There are a couple of 4.2s over here” he announced, in the excited tones of an archaeologist unearthing a mythical treasure whose existence had been barely believed.

It’s rude to stare, and I was finding it very hard not to, so I turned my back and moved over to concentrate on the shelves on the opposite side of the aisle.  But as I spotted a favourite Australian Chardonnay at 25% off and happily picked up two bottles to put in my basket, I could still hear them calling out numbers to each other and my curiosity got the better of me.  This is the Lake District, I reminded myself, where strangers talk to each other – not London, where they don’t.

Still, even in the Lake District, to simply demand “What the hell are you doing?” would be a bit rude.  And thankfully I’d already started to work out what they might be doing.  So I plucked up my courage and wandered over to her. “Excuse me asking, but is that some kind of app you’re using, that gives you information about the wine?”

“Yes”, she responded, turning to me with a smile.  “It’s brilliant.  It’s called Vivino, and you just scan the label and it tells you all about the wine’s flavour, and gives you a rating out of 5 so you know if it’s any good”.  And she showed me, on her phone, the recent wines she had scanned, ranked according to the ratings given by the app.  “Recommend” she finished – that single word somehow perfectly encapsulating the ways in which the digital world has changed not just our daily habits but even our means of communicating, so that even the sentence “I’d thoroughly recommend it” is now considered too long-winded, when a single word will do.

I thanked her and wandered off, leaving her and her partner to continue scanning labels and comparing notes.  But it struck me as a rather clinical and rather joyless way to choose wine – not to mention time-consuming.   What happened to either sticking with one’s favourites – as I have a tendency to do – or taking a punt on something different and potentially discovering something delightful?

I can’t help wondering, sometimes, whether there is a link between our increasing reliance on reviews and recommendations, and the rise of the nanny state.  When we live in a world in which almost every element of our lives is risk-managed and controlled to avoid unexpected surprises, is it any wonder that we turn to review websites and apps to guide our decisions on where to live, what car to drive, where to go on holiday, where to eat and now even what to drink?  Maybe the risk of choosing the wrong holiday destination, or the wrong car, or even the wrong wine, is a risk that some people are simply not willing to take.

On the other hand, maybe I’m reading too much into this and Vivino is simply bringing a modern take to the well-established market of wine buyers’ guides. My brother has for many years been a French wine enthusiast and will spend hours poring over websites and magazines looking at reviews and recommendations.  Is this young couple’s desire to know more about the wines they are about to buy, really any different from that of my brother?

In the interest of research, I downloaded the app onto my phone and pointed it at a bottle of Chilean merlot in my kitchen.  The app immediately returned a rating (3.3, about average apparently) and told me the average price I should expect to pay for it (£7.27, which made me very happy as I’d bought it on special at £6).  It rated the wine’s taste characteristics based on 22 user reviews, and showed a selection of user review comments, most of which were very positive. My wine, sadly, didn’t fare very well in the world rankings – it was ranked in the bottom 28% of wines in the world, though at £6 a bottle I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be top-rated.  But I laughed out loud as I scrolled further down and read the line “All Merlot sales took a fairly sizeable hit when the 2004 movie Sideways was released”.

It seems the value we accord other people’s opinions goes far beyond a reliance on review websites and apps, and no matter how good a wine may be, it is no match for a character in a high-grossing movie shouting the line “I am not drinking any f***ing merlot!”   Which is ridiculous, really, as individual tastes and different palates mean the only true way to find out if you’ll enjoy a wine, is to taste it.    Personally, I love Chilean merlot, and I certainly don’t need an app – or a movie – to validate my choice.  But for those who do, there’s always Vivino.






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It’s about time we prepared for a “no deal” Brexit

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In the two and a half years since the UK voted for Brexit, we’ve become accustomed to the divided opinion that greets almost every Brexit-related announcement. But I still find myself surprised at the near hysteria emanating from some sectors of the Remain camp, at the news that Theresa May has ordered her cabinet to ramp up plans for a “no-deal” Brexit.

Why on earth would anyone – whether they voted Leave or Remain – see this as a bad thing?

Of course I already know the answer.  It’s because in the deluded minds of those who still haven’t accepted the vote to leave, actually making preparations for a no-deal exit makes it all the more likely that that eventuality will occur.   Far better, in their superstitious imaginings, to treat Brexit as the Candyman, who only appears if you say his name.  If we pretend it isn’t happening, goes the logic, maybe it won’t.

It’s ironic that it’s the supposedly reckless Brexiters who have been begging the government to prepare for a no deal exit, while many Remainers have seen the stubborn refusal to do so, as a positive sign.  When we voted for Brexit, we did it in what now seems a rather naïve belief in our government’s ability to tackle head-on the challenge of implementing our decision, and to go to the EU fully prepared to walk away from talks if a mutually beneficial deal could not be reached.

But through the government’s refusal to even contemplate a no-deal exit, and Theresa May’s many public announcements making it clear that while she may have said “No deal is better than a bad deal”, what she really meant was “I will try to sell any deal you are prepared to give me”, we have effectively thrown ourselves at the feet of the EU negotiators, begging for scraps.

We may be outraged at the awfulness of the deal that Mrs May has come back with, but we can’t truly claim to be surprised.  It would be like going into one’s boss’s office and saying “I’d really like a promotion and a pay rise but I really don’t want to lose this job because I don’t believe there are any better opportunities elsewhere.  So if you wouldn’t mind just giving me a different title that sounds like a promotion, I’ll consider that a win.”

The government should have been making full preparations for a no-deal exit, right from the start.  Willingness to walk away is crucial to any negotiation.  And that willingness to walk away can only ever come from a deep awareness of the consequences of doing so, and the readiness to accept or mitigate those consequences.

The fact that the army is on standby to deal with the disruption of a no-deal Brexit, fills me not with dread, but with joy.  Having an army that can be called in to deal with emergency situations of all types – as it did when the contractor G4S made such a mess of Olympic security that troops had to be called in to perform security checks on visitors to the Olympic venues – is one of the many things Britain can be proud of. The good cheer with which our troops carried out their duties on that occasion, simply added to the pride felt by those of us lucky Brits who attended the Olympic events.  The army is regularly called in to assist other emergency services – such as the recent example of troops called in to help firefighters in tackling the huge blaze near Saddleworth Moor, which took more than three weeks to fully extinguish.   NOT having an army on standby would be something to worry about.

There are some who claim that the calls to ramp up no-deal preparations are pure posturing on Mrs May’s part, a threat to MPs that if they don’t back her withdrawal agreement, they risk the UK leaving without a deal.   I can certainly see how that could be the case.

But maybe – just maybe – Mrs May is finally coming to see that there is a very real possibility that we may reach 29 March 2019 without any deal being agreed. Or even – and I accept this is unlikely – maybe she is finally ready to take a firmer line with the EU, and is preparing herself for a tougher negotiation from which she actually is willing to walk away.  Heaven knows she’s put up with enough humiliation at the hands of EU negotiators aided by traitorous UK politicians briefing them on how best to turn the screw.

It doesn’t really matter, in the end, what Mrs May’s deeper motivation is in stepping up no-deal preparations.  What should have been done on day 1, is finally being done now – and with less than 100 days left until Brexit, it’s about bloody time.




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No, we did NOT vote for a cheese submarine

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Once again, it’s been a while since I last managed to gather my thoughts sufficiently around one idea or subject in order to write a new blog post.  In large part, that’s been due to starting a new job, which has been occupying my time and concentration to the extent that I can no longer spend as much time as I have been doing, gorging myself on news articles and social media feeds.  But it’s also been down to the fact that when I have had time to read the news, or catch up on what’s trending on Twitter, it’s almost exclusively about the mess that the British government is making of Brexit.   And dear God, where to start on trying to make some sense of my thoughts around that?

But finally, with the help of a truly appalling analogy, I am going to try.  The journalist Hugo Rifkind, a few days ago, and presumably under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol or drugs – or maybe just suffering from Brexit burnout – composed a series of tweets in which he compared the vote for Brexit, to a decision to build a submarine out of cheese.  Yes, really.

I saw the tweets at the time.  And I ignored them.  Because really – what is the point of even beginning to engage with such an asinine analogy?

But those tweets had legs.  Actual news sites – admittedly fairly minor ones, but still – found something appealing in Rifkind’s ridiculous analogy, and chose to republish the tweets.  And it wasn’t long before a friend in South Africa came across them and posted them to Facebook, tagging me, along with a couple of others, to make sure I saw them.

I tried not to rise to the bait.  Because I already know there is nothing more frustrating than trying to have a sensible discussion about a topic as complicated as Brexit, on Facebook.  But of course, having been tagged in the post, I had to respond.  And so I felt compelled to point out that the reason the analogy is so ridiculous – and actually downright offensive – is because it implies that the British people voted for something that was completely fantastical, and that the only reason the government is making such a mess of delivering it, is because it is undeliverable.

The reality, though, is that the British people voted for something that, while a bit messy and complicated to deliver, was always entirely achievable.  But the British government, and a few powerful lobby groups, are so determined not to accept the vote, that they have twisted and spun every possible interpretation of that vote to leave, in order to come back with a proposed deal that is so awful, so humiliating, that they hope we can finally be convinced to stay.

And so to correct Mr Rifkind’s analogy – the British people voted to build a submarine, but the UK government, determined not to build the submarine, decided instead to submit plans to build the submarine out of cheese.  They hoped that by doing this, they would be able to then say to the British people “We’re really sorry, but cheese is our only available material from which to build a submarine, so of course we respect your vote to build a submarine, but now that you know a bit more about what’s involved in building it, maybe you’d like to vote again on whether you’d really like us to build that submarine”.

And oh, I know there are many within the Remain camp who think Mr Rifkind’s cheese analogy is brilliant and hilarious.  Because of course what is funnier than pointing out how ludicrous it was, for 52% of the country to vote for something that could never be delivered in the first place?  Oh how they love to laugh at those poor deluded idiots who were stupid enough to dream the impossible dream and actually vote for it.

Those of us who voted for Brexit have had two and a half YEARS of this shit.  This bollocks, this lazy, contemptible mockery of our naïve belief in democracy, and sovereignty, and in the accountability of our MPs to us, the voters.   So what that under our constituency voting system, 69% of MPs represent constituencies that voted Leave?  We are discovering, to our disgust, that many of our MPs feel sufficiently safe in their Labour or Conservative majority seats to completely defy the manifestos on which they were elected, in the knowledge that no matter how much voters may feel betrayed over Brexit, they will never switch allegiances between the two main parties.  Oh, angry Brexit voters may at the next general election choose to vote UKIP in protest, but in a constituency in which either Labour or Conservative command a significant majority, a few thousand voters switching allegiances to UKIP will make no difference whatsoever to the overall result.

And so instead of simply accepting the result of the vote, and vowing to pull together and try to deliver on it, we have had two and a half years of politicians and pundits trying to reinterpret the vote.  Which really takes some audacity, given the ballot paper offered a simple choice between “leave the European Union” and “remain a member of the European Union”.

In the run-up to the vote, there was only one Brexit.  We were told, over and over again, that Brexit meant leaving all the institutions of the European Union and giving up all of the benefits of membership of those institutions.  We repeatedly heard the refrain “We will be out of the single market, and out of the customs union.  We will no longer have a seat at the table.  We will no longer be part of the decision-making authority”.  We heard it loud and clear.  And we still voted to leave.

But suddenly we found, having voted for Brexit, that politicians were discussing two possible alternatives – soft Brexit and hard Brexit.  And no matter how much Brexiters railed on social media, that there is no such thing as soft Brexit, that Brexit means leaving the European Union and all its institutions, our voices were drowned out by the political and media juggernaut that had decided that “soft Brexit” could be sold as a compromise that would preserve our trading arrangements with the EU while satisfying Brexiters’ concerns about immigration (another sly reinterpretation of the vote, whereby suddenly issues like sovereignty and wider trading relationships with the rest of the world, got swept aside in favour of the eternal spin about Brexiters being xenophobic little Englanders who could be fobbed off with reassurances around immigration).

After all, “nobody voted to be poorer” we are constantly told.  But just as our media loves to point out the irony that the areas that are least diverse, are those that are most concerned about immigration, it turns out it’s the wealthiest in society who are most concerned about any minor change to their financial situation.  I’ve lost count of the number of wealthy middle class friends who expressed concerns about having to pay for visas to travel to Europe, or who worry about mobile phone roaming charges, or the falling value of the pound making their European holidays more expensive, or worried that their children may not have the same opportunities they did, to travel freely throughout Europe and pick up jobs in beach bars in their 20s (I have to laugh at this one – do these people seriously imagine that countries like Greece and Italy, with 40-50% youth unemployment, are going to provide summer jobs for rich British kids?  These people, who supposedly love Europe and love feeling European, have a dire understanding of the actual state of many European economies).

Oh, they love to tell us how it’s the poorest in society who will be hurt the most by Brexit.  But that’s just a vain attempt to try to hide their own selfishness under a false blanket of concern for their fellow citizens (“it’s not myself I’m worried about – I’ll be fine – but it’s those poor people who voted for Brexit because they were lied to”).  No, the poorest in society – unable to afford to holiday in Europe and so not remotely concerned about the cost of visas and the value of the pound – are unlikely to be the hardest hit.  It will be the comfortably-off middle class, and the rich businessmen and politicians who benefit from EU funds and EU regulations that protect their businesses from competition, who will most acutely feel the pinch.

And so it’s no wonder that we are seeing such desperate attempts to reinterpret the vote to leave as “a protest vote” rather than a genuine desire to leave. No wonder, either, that we are constantly told that people didn’t know what they were voting for, that we were lied to, that not everyone who voted leave had the same vision of what leaving would look like, that it’s only fair that the government should go back to the people and ask them again, what they really want to to do, now that we know so much more than we did before.

Well I’m calling bullshit on the whole lot.  The only new information we have had in the last two and a half years, that we didn’t have before the vote, is about the extent to which our politicians will go to avoid doing the jobs they were elected to do.  And the levels of treachery to which senior figures such as Nick Clegg, Lord Adonis, Ken Clarke and Tony Blair will stoop, to openly brief the opposition in negotiations, against the interests of their own government.

The British people were given a choice – to either remain a member of the EU, or to leave the EU.  We were told that this was a once-in-a lifetime choice and that it would be implemented – no matter how narrow the margin of the decision.  We chose to leave the EU and it’s time our political class accepted that decision and got on with implementing it – and time they stopped trying to either hoodwink us into accepting a deal that ties us to the EU in perpetuity, or trying to get us to vote again.

We didn’t vote for a submarine built of cheese – it’s time for the cowards and the liars within our political class to stop pretending that we did.


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ECHR ruling paves the way for “Marry Your Rapist” Laws in Europe

You’ve probably already read about the European Court of Human Rights ruling this week that the right to free expression does not include the right to defame the Prophet Mohammed.  The story has been reported in most national newspapers, and has provoked outrage on social media, with many people suggesting that the ruling effectively outlaws blasphemy – and, of course, demanding to know why yet again, Islam appears to be the only religion which cannot be criticised.

I have no desire to rehash arguments that have already been made as to why this ruling is such a regressive step.  But I would like to discuss the one element of the case which, for whatever reason, no other commentators appear to be discussing.

A brief background for those who may have missed this story.  The case involves an Austrian woman, found guilty in 2011 of incitement to religious hatred, for ‘defaming’ the Prophet Mohammed by referring to him as a paedophile.  She appealed the case to the high court in Austria and, after losing that appeal, referred it to the ECHR on the grounds that her conviction violated her right to free expression under section 10 of the Convention.  The ECHR, earlier this week, found in favour of the Austrian government.

But let’s look a bit more closely at the logic underlying her original conviction – which was reiterated in the recent ECHR judgement.  The charge of ‘defamation’ is generally understood in law to apply to statements that are untrue – so in order to find her guilty of defamation, the Austrian court had to maintain that her statement, that Mohammed was a paedophile, was untrue.

This they did.  But it’s the logic they used in order to make this finding, that is so preposterous – and deeply alarming.  For they accepted without question the evidence of the Islamic hadiths which stated that Mohammed married his wife Aisha when she was six years old and consummated the marriage when she was nine.  So there was no question whatsoever as to the veracity of the claim that he had sex with a nine year-old.

No – it turns out the court’s opinion was that a person can only be called a paedophile if their primary sexual interest is in children.  Mohammed, the court ruled, could not be proven to have been primarily interested in Aisha because of her tender age – particularly as the marriage continued into her adult years.   Moreover, the court ruled, as Mohammed had many wives, most of whom were adults and one of whom was even older than him, it simply could not be said that he was a paedophile.  The court further ruled that “even though criticizing child marriages was justifiable….. child marriages were not the same as paedophilia”.  It was on the basis of these arguments that the woman was found guilty.

She appealed to the Vienna Court of Appeal, specifically arguing against the contention that somebody who marries a child and maintains the marriage beyond the age at which the child reaches consent, cannot be called a paedophile.  The Court of Appeal upheld the regional court’s judgement.  And now, so has the ECHR.

So there we have it.  Under European law, it seems a paedophile can escape censure by simply marrying his victim and maintaining the marriage until the child reaches puberty.   Furthermore, many of the men who have recently been convicted of grooming and raping underage girls in towns and cities across the UK, cannot be called paedophiles as most of them have adult wives – therefore it cannot be said that their primary sexual interest is in children.

This is unbelievably regressive.   There are still many countries in the world where ‘Marry Your Rapist’ laws exist – in other words, laws in these countries allow rapists to escape prosecution by marrying their victims.   The inevitable result of such laws is that rape victims often find themselves pressurised into marriage with the man who has raped them.  Campaigns have been fought – and are still being fought – in all of these countries to try to get these regressive laws repealed.  Yet the Austrian courts appear to be paving the way for the introduction of such laws, and the ECHR – the one body that should be most vigilant about such moves – is simply turning a blind eye.

I will admit to knowing very little about the ECHR’s jurisdiction in individual cases. It may be that because the ECHR was asked to adjudicate specifically on the question of the applicant’s rights to free expression, it was forced to consider only this matter, and was not able to comment on the rights or wrongs of the wider case.  I truly hope that is the case, and that somewhere behind the scenes, somebody in the European Court is having a quiet word with the Austrian courts about their original ruling.   But sadly, I very much doubt it.








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