OK, so he won. The votes of affiliate and registered supportes may have increased the scale of his win, but he won, fair and square. No matter your views on whether Corbyn should have won, what he’ll do as Leader of the Labour Party, indeed what happens to Labour in the immediate and medium-term future, he won.

To slightly misquote Dick Tuck, “the membership have spoken, the bastards.” Contrary to one of the many inaccurate predictions by the media about the leadership election, the Labour Party did indeed publish the breakdown of the different elements of the electorate: members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters, and the membership results make it clear: Corbyn took 49.5% of the membership vote on the first round. 

So, let’s not hear any more about how it was anyone other than the membership who decided this election. Congratulations to Jeremy Corbyn; though he would no doubt deny that it was a personal victory and would insist it was solely about policies and ideas, it was a stunning personal victory for him and the policies he espouses.

And I wish the Labour party well. I know half a dozen people who have joined the party in the past 24 hours, and no doubt, there’ll be more than a few in the next days and weeks. 

I’ll wave at them on the way out.

I joined the Labour party on 8th May 2015, just before Ed Miliband resigned as leader. I’d have joined a few hours before that but I was still in shock at the 2015 general election result. As I wrote in early May, after 32 years as an adult resisting the occasional temptation to join a political party, I joined the Labour Party. A friend, who’s known me for almost two decades, said she wasn’t sure about what to be more surprised: that I’d joined a politicial party, or that I’d chosen to join Labour. It was a fair appraisal. For most of my adult life, if I’d have had to pick a party, it probably would have been the Conservative Party, as the ‘left’ of that party – and it does exist – is where I felt most naturally ‘at home’: the Conservative party of Ken Clarke, of Jim Prior, of Peter Walker; those who Maggie Thatcher derided as ‘the wets’.

But what cannot be denied is the sucker punch I got on 7th May 2015, at 10:01pm, when they released the first exit polls. That’s not quite true; I might have expected the gut punch. What was entirely unexpected was the severity of my reaction. I was floored, absolutely stunned. It couldn’t be accurate; it just couldn’t. Surely the country couldn’t have given Cameron a majority. Now, to be fair, the exit poll suggested the Conservative Party were just short of a majority, but given the normal course of events, that could still have meant a small majority, 1 or 2. As the actual constituency results came in, just short of a majority looked like the best that Tory opponents could hope for. 

I’ve been asked, several times as it happens, by various people: why? WHY did you join the Labour Party? Simple and honest answer is ‘I didn’t want to feel again like I felt when I first saw that exit poll.’

Well, more fool me. Because I felt exactly the same yesterday when I saw Jeremy Corbyn elected as leader of the Labour Party. It will be no surprise that I naively supported Corbyn’s inclusion in the leadership election. Naively, yes, because while I thought that it was important that all wings of the party be heard in the contest, it genuinely never occurred to me that his message would resonate with the membership to the extent that I no longer felt I had a place in it.

Yesterday evening, after several hours considering it, I sent the following email to the chair and secretary of my Constituency Labour Party:

From: Lee Barnett

Date: 12 September 2015 22:08:36

Subject: Resignation from Labour Party

Please take this email as my resignation from Richmond Park CLP. I am contacting labour HQ to formally resign from the party.

I’d like to express my thanks to everyone in Richmond Park CLP for the welcome they extended me and the respect in which I was heard on the occasions I spoke. Also, I was and remain grateful for the opportunity to act as CLP delegate to the special conference at which the leader and deputy leader election results were announced.

As you both know, I cannot and will not remain a member of a party whose leader has shown himself supremely unconcerned with others’ (including supporters’) anti-semitism. While I don’t believe for a moment that Jeremy Corbyn is himself an anti-Semite, his choosing to associate with anti-Semites, to invite them to parliament, to support, defend and campaign for them has left me little choice but to leave the party.

I was asked at one of the first meetings why I had – after 32 years as an adult resisting the temptation to join a party – joined the labour party. My answer was simple: I never wanted to feel again like I did on 7th May 2015 at 10:01pm, when the first exit poll was released. More fool me. That the party could elect as leader a man to who the votes of anti-Semitic supporters was more important than condemning them gave me the precise same feeling.

Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn will no doubt point to his many speeches condemning anti-semitism; however he never condemns individuals nor organisations for their anti-semitism. It’s like criticising racist lynchings in America but never criticising the KKK.

Corbyn invited a man who propagated the Blood Libel (that Jews kill children for their blood) and wrote that Jews were responsible for 9/11 to tea in Parliament AFTER those statements were made and called him an honoured citizen. At the PSC campaign March this week, numerous examples of anti-semitism were caught on film. Corbyn never once condemned them.

I cannot and will not remain in a party led by this man.

I therefore resign from Richmond Park CLP.

Lee Barnett

And just like that, it’s no longer any of my business what happens to the Labour Party and how it manages the next few days, weeks and months. Oh, sure, I’ll still comment on what they do, but I’ll no longer take any responsibility for what they do.

How will I vote in 2020? I dunno – show me the manifestos and I’ll decide when I see them. However right now, I cannot – for the reasons I state above – see me campaigning for, or voting for, Labour while Corbyn is leader of the party.

If you want to join Labour, campaign for them, vote for them, good on ya. I’m quite open about my reasons for not being able to do so, but I wouldn’t for one moment expect my reasons to be more important to you than your own reasons. And I’d hope you’ll pay me and my views the same respect.


A while back, I wrote a post entitled wanted: one effective opposition. This was long before I joined the Labour party, long before I had any intention of joining a political party, and certainly long before I knew that Ed Miliband’s Labour party would lose the 2015 general election. Within the post I made several points about the the bedroom tax, tax avoidance and the hypocrisy of politicians. I still stand by everything I wrote, and nothing’s got much better since.

However, the effectiveness of the opposition has undoubtedly got worse in the past couple of months. Possibly, we should have expected it as Labour goes through one of its now semi-regular navel gazing processes while it decides who’s going to be their next leader and deputy leader. As I wrote the other day, I’m still unsure who’ll get my vote for the former, and that vote will play a large part in who I vote for as deputy. If it’s Liz Kendall or Yvette Cooper (and I’m leaning ever so slightly towards Cooper) then I believe they’ll need an attack dog as deputy, and there’s no one in the deputy leadership race who comes close to Tom Watson on that score. If it’s Andy Burnham who gets my vote, then I’m pretty sure I’ll cast the deputy leadership vote for Stella Creasy. But that’s for the future. I’m attending my first leadership hustings on Sunday and I’m hoping that the experience will give me some push to my decision.

In my piece the other day, I wrote:

But you know what, I’ve some sympathy with one very Corbyn view of things: that the purpose of the Labour party isn’t to just roll over and accept the welfare… well, more accurately, not well, and not fair… policies of the Conservative Party. So, the Tory government was elected. Right. OK. That doesn’t mean that the electorate agreed wholeheartedly with the offering made by the Conservatives. It means that the offering from Labour didn’t convince the public, a very different thing indeed. 

The important thing there is in the first couple of lines: the purpose of an opposition party isn’t to accept the government’s presentation of things as facts. Further, the purpose of an opposition party, especially five years out from an election is, guess what, to oppose.

Would someone like to let Harriet Harman, the interim/acting leader of the Labour Party know this essential truth? It’s Harman who explained her committing the Labour Party – at least in the immediate future – to not fight the child tax credit cuts and certain other welfare reforms by saying the party could not “oppose everything” and that “We’ve got the Budget coming forward next week and a number of bills that the government is bringing forward, whilst I’m interim leader I have to decide how we’re going to respond to those. She said that Labour’s big defeats in the last two elections meant it could not adopt “blanket opposition”.

You know what, Harriet, for someone who’s been in opposition for twenty of your thirty-three years in Parliament, I’d have thought you’d have figured out that the purpose of opposition is to oppose. You’re there to hold the government to account, to make the government exert some bloody effort to get its legislation through; you’re definitely not there to make it easy for the government. If the party agrees with something the government does, then you use the procedures of the House to improve the legislation. What you don’t do as an opposition is whimper quietly, roll over, expect a tickle on your tummy and and then play dead.

I have rarely been as disappointed in a leader of the opposition, temporary or permanent, as I have been by Harriet Harman in the weeks since the election. Look, she may be demob happy, she maybe can’t wait to get out of the position of responsibility. Tough; this is the job she accepted when she stood for deputy leader. If she wants to resign, fine, go ahead, let there be another temporary leader until the election. Hell, there’ll only be one PMQs before the leadership result is known, and you can let Chukka do that one, since he’s not standing for leader this time.

But please, please, please... EITHER start opposing and doing your bloody job, OR step aside and let someone else do it. Because right now, the job of opposing the government isn’t being done properly by the official opposition. And it needs to be. Good government requires strong opposition. And whatever the official party of opposition currently is… it’s presenting itself as weak as a three day old malnourished kitten.

I mentioned that last year, I wrote a post entitled Wanted: one effective opposition. I ended that post with the following:

This should be the time when the official opposition should be challenging the government every bloody day. And they’re not. At all. They should – less than a year out from the next general election – be ripping the Government a new hole daily. 

Do I want a Labour party in power? I don’t know – show me their next manifesto and I’ll tell you.

Until then, I’d be content with them proving they actually bloody want the job.

Right now, Harriet Harman is doing nothing to convince me that’s changed.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, and I keep meaning to, but there’s been nothing much I’ve felt I could add to the various blogs and opinion pieces around. And, yes, this blog turned into a politics blog a few months ago, but it was always intended to be a hodgepotch of stuff. So, yeah, nothing’s been bothering me enough to write a blog post on.

Until now. Because Jeremy Corbyn is running for the Labour Leadership.

Corbyn, by his own admission, is from the left of the Labour party, and this alone has created a kind of “well, he should be elected because of that” attitude among many. I hope I’m not being unfair here; two of the other three candidates (Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall) are far to the right politically from Corbyn and the other – Andy Burnham – was so enmeshed in the 2010-2015 shadow cabinet that it’s understandably proving difficult for him to abandon so many of the not-very-left-wing policies the party offered at the general election.

Now, let’s put my cards on the table upfront. I think the only thing a Corbyn-led party would guarantee would be a Conservative win in 2020, with a much increased majority. Every political party, after all, is an internal coalition between those who favour a watered down version of the party’s core principles and those who hold steadfast to them no matter what. I think, being a bit simplistic for a moment, that every party can be said be said to have three ‘wings’: a not-very-core-vote wing, a somewhat moderate wing and a core-vote wing. I don’t think it’s possible to win an election without getting two of the three. 

If we were applying this to the Conservative party, I’d say that Ken Clarke would fall somewhere in the ‘not very core-vote’ side of things, Dominic Grieve in the moderate wing, and George Osborne firmly in the core-vote section of the party.

But we’re talking about Labour and leaving Burnham aside for the moment, I think that using those categories, Liz Kendall is in the ‘not very core-vote’ side of things, Yvette Cooper in the moderate wing, and Jeremy Corbyn is firmly in the core-vote section of the party. Andy Burnham, using this categorisation, would be somewhere between Cooper and Corbyn, slightly closer to the latter.

And if you can only win by taking two of the three ‘wings’, then I can’t see any way that Corbyn’s Labour Party can win. He’ll get the core-vote, sure, but that’s the only ‘wing’ he’d get. And sure, there’s a portion (the size of that portion is disputed) of the Labour Party who only want Corbyn, but as someone else much wiser than I am recently said:

The Labour Party seems to have a problem: win with someone they don’t like, or lose with someone they do.

But you know what, I’ve some sympathy with one very Corbyn view of things: that the purpose of the Labour party isn’t to just roll over and accept the welfare… well, more accurately, not well, and not fair… policies of the Conservative Party. So, the Tory government was elected. Right. OK. That doesn’t mean that the electorate agreed wholeheartedly with the offering made by the Conservatives. It means that the offering from Labour didn’t convince the public, a very different thing indeed. The lesson from the election shouldn’t be “they preferred the Tory manifesto” but that Labour didn’t do enough to convince the public of their manifesto. 

Using the analogy of a criminal trial for a moment: being found not guilty doesn’t mean the accused ‘didn’t do it’; it just means that the prosecution didn’t prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. 

In the same way, it doesn’t mean Labour’s offering was wrong (although, my personal opinion is that much of it was); it means that Labour didn’t prove their case. Labour need people who can convince – with evidence, facts and debate – an electorate that firmly rejected them on 7th May.

(Oh, and since every post-election blog is apparently obliged to mention Scotland at some point, I’ve always liked the Scottish verdict of “Not Proven”, which a friend once suggested really means “you didn’t do it; now don’t do it again.”)

But back to the Labour Leadership contest. Maybe it’s because I’m a new member, but I’m beginning to feel something that I haven’t felt about my views for a very, very long time: that they were naïve. Not in joining the party, but what the leadership context itself would involve. I was one of those who wanted Corbyn in the leadership race because – perhaps naively – yes, I believed that all wings of the party should be represented, but more importantly I thought the leadership candidates would be obliged to defend their platforms, and justify their proposed direction for the party. And they haven’t, yet. From everything I’ve seen, the candidates have been reduced to spray painting soundbites and sloganising. 

If Liz Kendall wants to drag the party into a ‘centre ground’ and win from there, I want to know how the hell she squares that with Scotland, where it can at least be argued that Labour lost because they were portrayed by the SNP as not left-wing enough. If Burnham thinks the Labour Party offering in 2015 was the best manifesto he’s ever stood on, I want to know why he thinks that, and how he reconciles that with wanting to change things. If Cooper is arguing that her experience counts, I need her to defend her actions while part of the Shadow Cabinet that lost the election so badly.

And Jeremy Corbyn? I want to hear him justify his positions. Well, no, I want to him hear justify one position in particular. 

This position:

That is the prospective leader of the Labour Party referring to Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘friends’ and saying he’s ‘honoured’ to host the latter in Parliament. Now some people have assumed that because I’m angry at this, it means I don’t sympathise with the Palestinians, or that I think Israel is always right. For completeness, respectively, I do and I don’t. And I believe I’ve shown by my words on plenty of occasions the truth of both assertions.

So, that said, why do I have such a problem with Corbyn’s comments?

Well, the Hamas Charter calls for the deaths of ALL Jews. And, unlike the BBC with their recent documentary Children of Gaza, you can’t say that the references to Jews really means Israelis, as the word Zionists is also (in addition) used. Nope, the Charter – the governing document of Hamas – calls for the deaths of “Jews”. That’s ALL Jews. Everywhere.


Now it’s only fair to say that the leadership of Hamas have said the Charter no longer applies. But it is still the governing document of Hamas; they refuse to amend it, and have refused for nearly thirty years. Given the numerous examples of Hamas’s anti-semitism in statements and speeches, it’s not hard to believe, and I think it’s a fair inference, that they’re anti-Semitic in nature, rather than merely anti-Zionist.

So that’s Hamas. Now Hezbollah. The leader of Hezbollah has also called for the deaths of all Jews worldwide. Some time ago, fair enough, but he’s never gone back on it, and is never upbraded for it by those who support them. 


Now remember, this isn’t Hezbollah or Hamas calling for the destruction of the Jewish State. That’s bad enough on its own. As a friend said, being anti-Israel’s policies doesn’t mean you’re anti-Israel more than being anti-GWB’s policies meant you were anti-American. But when people call for the destruction of the State of Israel, yeah, I smell ovens warming up. Being anti-Hamas or anti-Hezbollah doesn’t mean you support Israel. Hell, even supporting the continuance of the State of Israel as an entity doesn’t mean that you support the government of Israel. Nor does it mean supporting any individual law, any individual military action. Nor does it mean supporting the settlement movement. At the end of the day, saying you support the aims of Hamas and Hezbollah means you support someone who wants to kill me and my son. If on the other hand, you want to support them but you don’t like those parts of their policies, then don’t call them your ‘friends’, don’t say you’re ‘honoured’ to host them… but DO urge them to make it clear they don’t want to kill Jews. Because the thing is, you see, even if they change THAT bit, their primary motivation clearly isn’t the destruction of Israel per se. It’s to kill Jews.

Zionism is merely the wish for the Jewish people to have a home. That it’s been misused by many doesn’t change the definition. But sadly, some use “Zionist” as an excuse to cover up the fact that they just want to kill Jews. If Israel abandoned the settlements, it wouldn’t stop them. If Israel retreated to the 1967 borders, it wouldn’t stop them. If Israel returned to the 1948 borders, it wouldn’t stop them. They just want to kill Jews.

And, while I’m personally against the idea of ‘The Return’, i.e. everyone who left Israel in 1947-8 getting their land back, it’s not because I’m anti-Arab, I’m anti-double standards. What about the estimated 850k Jews expelled from Arab countries at the same time. Are they going to get their land back as well?

Some people have, understandably, enough offered defences for Corbyn’s words and actions. Let me deal with them quickly.

(1) “It’s hardly diplomatic to criticise those you want to change.” This is a fair point… if diplomacy is your aim. But it’s not; it can’t be. For to be diplomatic, one must be open to there being compromise from all sides, and it’s equally undiplomatic to only support one side in a conflict while only criticising the others. You can either only praise one side entirely uncritically in public and only every criticise the other in harsh language… or you can say you’re being diplomatic. Not both, not without justified accusations of hypocrisy.

(2) Same thing with the defence of “Well, he’s trying to make peace”. Again, You can either only praise one side entirely uncritically in public and only every criticise the other in harsh language… or you can say you’re being a peacemaker. Not both, not without even greater justified accusations of hypocrisy.

(3) “You have to work with people you abhor in politics”. Yes, you do, of course you do. But you don’t have to call them your ‘friends’ and say you’re ‘honoured’ to host them in Parliament.

(4) “Well, he’s just saying it; he doesn’t really mean it; they’re not really his friends”. Ah, so what you’re saying is that I can’t trust what Corbyn says? That he’s just another politician saying things for political effect and I can’t trust him? Hmm.

(5) “The same accusations were made about Corbyn’s preference for the IRA”. For a start, Corbyn never formally invited the IRA. He invited Sinn Fein. Secondly, this gets brought up quite a lot, an attempted and supposed similarity between the IRA and Hamas/Hezbollah. It’s a false analogy, simply because The IRA didn’t want to kill every Brit in the UK, let alone worldwide. They wanted the UK to leave what they considered none of the UK’s business, i.e. the island of Ireland. Hamas and Hezbollah want to destroy Israel, kill every Jew there and every Jew in the area, in the continent, every Jew worldwide. “Ah, but they could never do that…” Right, so if you received a death threat from someone overseas, that’s ok, is it? You’re quite ok with that? Well, you’re a better person than me then.

It’s notable that while some – few – people have defended Corbyn’s views (and some have admitted quite frankly  that they support the deaths of Jews and certainly the destruction of Israel), Corbyn himself and his campaign team has been strangely quiet on the matter.

(EDIT TO ADD: since I wrote this post, Corbyn has attempted to explain his comments. Entirely unsuccessfully, in my opinion. But give the man credit. It’s not as if he lost his temper when being asked about it on Channel 4 news or anyth… Oh, wait.)

I know many people who support Corbyn’s bid for the leadership. They do so for the best of motives, I’ve no doubt. However, it seems to me that Corbyn’s ‘friends’ and ‘honoured’ comments are – must be – one of three things to such people:

(i) acceptable comments, i.e, you support them

(ii) unacceptable comments, i.e. you think they’re genuinely not acceptable

(iii) irrelevant and not of any meaning, i.e. you don’t care that he made the comments.

For those who think they’re acceptable, gee thanks, you’re agreeing that he should be honoured to host people who want to kill me and my child. Fuck off now, will you? Cheers. 

If you don’t care that he made the comments, fair enough. Personally, I wouldn’t vote for someone (or want someone as my party’s leader) who calls people who want me and my child dead his honoured friends. But, hey, it takes a world and all that.

If you think they’re unacceptable, then please, please for the love of heaven, let me know why you’re considering voting for him. Because if his comments are genuinely unacceptable, then don’t accept them. Vote for someone else, anyone else. Anyone but Corbyn.

Because come the day voting opens, I certainly will be.

It’s not often I write a letter for publication. It happens, but not that regularly. Occasionally it’s to Private Eye but as often as not, it’s to the Jewish Chronicle in response to a columnists’ outpouring, to reply to a letter or to comment upon a news piece. There’s a columnist there named Geoffrey Alderman who distinguishes himself to me on a regular basis by being like Melanie Phillips, someone with whom I disagree to such an extent that if I do agree with him, I immediately and urgently review my own thoughts to see where I’m wrong. He wrote a column in this week’s edition on the “Christian bakers” law case. Now, there are those who think – with good motives and understandable arguments – that the wrong decision was reached in that case. Andrew O’Neill, a very clever, very funny man, is one of those, believing that the state, via the means of the law, should mind its own business; after all, the peopel wanting a cake could go elsewhere with no inconvenience to anyone. Alderman on the other hand reaches that conclusion via very different reasoning and imputes nefarious motives to the customers, and their supporters.  So I wrote a letter to the JC. Now, I should say that when I told my lad that I’d written a letter, he – with no knowledge of the contents – softly swore half in admiration, half in dread as to what I wrote. Well, this is what I wrote:


I am constantly grateful for the opportunity to read Mr Alderman’s weekly musings, since knowing his column awaits me as I progress towards the middle pages of the JC allows me to play Shrödinger’s Alderman every week.

Will the column’s contents be contemptible or merely offensive? Of course, they are are both until I read the column and the possibilities collapse into one or the other. 

Long may Mr Alderman’s writings appear. Should I wish to show someone who does not read the newspaper an example of how one can be both wrong in content and tone I only have to present them with his latest column regarding the “gay lobby” which is insulting to the intelligence and morally indefensible. A commercial organisation can either be open to serving the public or it can discriminate. It cannot do both, not without accusations of hypocrisy and justified criticism. To suggest that only “the gay lobby” believe in non-discrimination insults the intelligence and his readership. As for Christianity being “persecuted” in the UK, maybe I’ve missed that in a country with the monarch being its defender of the faith, where its legislature opens every day with Christian prayers and 26 bishops have seats in the House of Lords by right. Yours, etc.

Someone once told me that they enjoy reading me when I write from either frustration or anger. I think I got both there.

I was lucky enough to get to see Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer last night, along with their guests (including Mitch Benn, the extra-ordinarily talented and lovely Andrew O’Neil, and Hayley Campbell, whose writing impresses me more every time I get to read it.) They’re guest-editing the current edition of New Statesman, and NS put on an evening’s entertainment which, as I say, I was fortunate enough to attend. I’ve known Neil for longer than my son’s been alive and it was so nice to catch up with him, Amanda and others after the show.

Backstage, Neil was embarrassingly nice about my own writing and it reminded me this morning about the following.

Way back when (well, about three years ago) I had another blog, hosted on Livejournal. For various reasons, all of which are too boring to relate here, I ceased that blog and started one here. But the old one’s still around, and it’s useful to be occcaisionally link to it. You can read all the fast fiction challenges in 2010 and the 150 stories I wrote for them in 150 days here, for example. There’s an entry I keep bookmarked for whenever anyone tries to tell me that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah; here’s why he isn’t, if you’re interested.

Some of the entries have been cross-posted to this blog; on occasion, when there’s something I want to add to whatever I wrote, or simply just to repost it to a new audience.

Like this post.

About four and years ago, Neil was fifty years’ old. Well, to be fair, for the next 365 days as well, he was fifty, but upon the occasion of Neil fiftieth birthday I couldn’t think what to get him as a birthday present. But seeing as he’s encouraged me and encouraged me and… well, nagged me on occasion, frankly… to write more, I wrote him the following.

I hadn’t ever intended to put it up on the blog, but Neil said I should, so… enjoy.

There Once Was A Child…

There once was a child who did not read.

It was not that he couldn’t read; he had read in the past. However, he told his parents, his friends and all who asked that he no longer read. And yet, the bookshelves of his bedroom were filled to overflowing with volumes of all kinds: hardback novels, paperback collections of long out of print stories, the occasional biography, and comic books by the hundred. And few of them did not show signs of use.

Nonetheless, contrary to the apparent evidence, he responded to all enquiries with the simple declaration that he did not read. And the child became angry when this assertion was challenged, despite many having seen him with an open book.

His parents, while puzzled at the fervour with which he maintained that He Did Not Read the books, were content to allow the child his eccentricity. After all, his father commented, he’ll grow out of it. His mother, however, worried.

His teachers were far less understanding and punished the child by assigning additional books to him. Within days, the child would return the book, commenting knowledgeably upon the contents, but insisting that he hadn’t read the book.

One day, it happened that an author was visiting the school, and in despair teachers begged him to meet the child.

So he sat with the child. And they talked.

“What is the word for when you lose yourself in wonder?” the child asked the writer. “It cannot be ‘reading’, for that is such a small word. And inside a book is so big. When I open a book, I am no longer myself. I am a sailor. Or a spy. Or a magical beast. Or…”

The child paused, and the writer was touched to see the child blush. “Or I am a boy wizard,” the child finished, quietly.

The writer was careful not to laugh, for he did not wish either to offend the child, or to patronise him.

And then he explained to the child something they both knew, but only the adult understood: that any word or phrase had only the weight and importance given to it by the one experiencing it at that moment.

“Do you believe reading is an end, of and for itself?” he asked the boy.

“No,” replied the child, “but everyone else seems to.”

“But we know they’re wrong, do we not?”

And then the child understood – reading was freedom to decide for yourself how much of yourself you gave to the experience; reading was the gateway to the world, to every world.

Reading was experience of everything.

There was once a child who did not read… or at least did not read for reading’s sake.

Let us hope there are many, many more.

I was reminded of it last night and again this morning, so even though Neil’s four and a half years older than fifty now and my own fifty-first birthday is rapidly approaching… I get to say a belated happy birthday again and again and again. 

I’ve been fascinated by the early briefings about the EU referendum due by the end of 2017, as promised in the Conservative Party manifesto for the 2015 general election.

I was interested to learn there’s been research done on the question to be asked. Well, not on the specific question, but on questions asked in referenda. It’s no surprise that crafting a question for a referendum is as much art as science, but recently the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 had a feature that indicated that the length of the question played a larger role than I had previously thought. For every additional word (beyond six words, I believe) there’s a small but measurable effect: it increases the chances of a no vote. Only by one or two percentage points, but in a close result, that could be all that’s needed. There’s also been research done on whether the yes or the no option should be the ‘default’ case, i.e. the ‘no change required’. In other words, should the question be something like:

Should the UK remain in the European Union?


Should the UK leave the European Union?

I’m unsure what the question should be, but my gut suggests that the ‘change’ option should always be the yes option, as it was in the Scottish Independence Referendum, where the question was, as you’ll recall:

Should Scotland be an independent country?

It may – or may not – be a coincidence that the question was exactly six words long. By the foregoing, you’d conclude that I think the question should be the latter of the two options, i.e. should the UK leave the European Union? And you’d be right. But the question and what it should be, and what it turns out to be, are matters for another day. However, if you’ll forgive me, since we don’t yet know the slant of the question, I’ll use in and out as the options going forward, ok? 

 As I say, the question itself isn’t even on the agenda yet. What is on the agenda, however, is the electorate, or rather what should comprise the electorate. But before I get to that in detail, one other macro-matter regarding electorates has been brought up; it was nothing but expected, and I don’t, can’t, believe it’s been brought up for any reason other than mischief-making. So let’s dispose of it quickly and move on. The Scottish National Party have said that they want the referendum, when it’s held, to have four electorates: the people of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. And that each of the four countries would have to vote to leave the European Union before the UK could leave.

This is, of course, utter nonsense. And what’s more, the SNP know it’s nonsense. It’s trite to say that the people of Scotland had their opportunity to vote for independence eight months ago, and they comprehensively rejected it… Trite, but true. It would be absurd for something of this magnitude to be decided on a country-by-country basis. The only even slightly sensible part of this would be if the SNP were laying groundwork for another referendum, which would hardly be in the spirit of the comments made since September 2014, when the SNP said the matter was now settled for a generation. 

If, however, the SNP intend another manifesto, then this is how I think they’d do it. They’d enter the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections with a manifesto promising another referendum in 2017, daring Westminster to say no, with 56 of the 59 Scottish MPs being SNP and another SNP Scottish government.  Their raising of the ‘four nations, four votes’ issue now can therefore be seen as a way of preparing their arguments to the European Union that if the UK leave the EU, then Scotland should be allowed to take the UK’s place.

But as I say, it’s a ludicrous position. Unless, of course, the SNP have lied to the public, lied to the voters and lied time and time again on camera about their ambitions. Now, what are the chances of that…?

Anyway, back to the electorate the government want; David Cameron has let it be known that the government will propose that the electorate should be the same as that for a general election:

  • British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 who are resident in the UK will be eligible to vote.
  • So too will UK nationals who have lived overseas for less than 15 years.

However, the government is not intending to extend the franchise to include include 16 and 17-year-olds, unlike the Scottish independence referendum. However, for some strange reason, members of the House of Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar will also be allowed to vote, although they cannot participate in general elections. This last puzzles me, but I’m sure there’ll be a reason for it; a lousy one, but a reason nonetheless.

It’s easy to understand why Cameron is now floating the idea of the franchise excluding under-18s and also EU citizens living in Britain; it increases the chances of an out vote. Taking the second first, I don’t think anyone would seriously suggest that EU citizens should be able to vote. British nationals haven’t been abole to vote overseas EU referenda, and it’s sensible that they are excluded here. I’m far more interested, however, in the exclusion of 16 and 17 year olds.

I don’t think it’s news, nor a coincidence, that the average UKIP supporter tends to have been born, as Emo Philips puts it, ‘at a more comfortable distance from the apocalypse’. And, similarly, opinion polls have shown that the 16-18 year old age group is, on the whole, more supportive of remaining in the EU than those nearing retirement age, say. One might think from this that Cameron wants to stack teh deck to decrease an in vote. I’m not sure. Not yet, anyway. 

See, I don’t think Cameron wants to leave the EU. In fact, I think he desperately wants the UK to remain inside the EU, reformed or otherwise. However, to bolster a fairly weak negotiating position – and to describe it as fairly weak is to greatly overestimate its strength, in my opinion – he needs to show the EU that he’s prepared to let the franchise be as anti-EU as he can. At the moment, anyway. It would not surprise me if, closer to the referendum, 16 and 17 year olds were included, much as Labour have indicated that they would attempt to amend the Referendum Bill to include them. They’re likely to fail in this attempt… in 2015. But it would not surprise me if the government respond to, say a Private Members’ Bill in early 2017 to lower the age allowed to vote in the referendum, by bringing such a measure onboard as a government Bill and taking it forward. The strongest argument, I think, for allowing this is that if there’s any age group that will be affected in the longer term, it’s the almost-adult.

So, the question needs to be sorted out, the franchise needs to be sorted out, and what the government offer to the people will do also. It’s tempting to regard what will be on offer as a straight in or out deal. But of course it won’t be. Or at least it won’t be just that. It’s like suggesting that running across a busy motorway with your eyes closed only involves whether or not you’ll make it to the other side unharmed. I genuinely don’t know the answers to the questions that have already been asked about the consequences of us leaving the EU. I don’t even know half the questions that should be asked. Thing is, I don’t think anyone else knows them right now either. And that’s even assuming that the government could get the bill through parliament unamended, no guarantee with a majority so thin, a dose of flu doing the rounds would annihilate it.

Fasten your seatbelts, people. This is going to be a bumpy ride. 

As the race* for the United States Presidential election of 2016 hots** up, it’s interesting*** to see how the potential candidates for their parties’ nomination frame their arguments and identify the most pressing issues of the moment.

* more of a canter, actually
** becomes slightly less tepid than it was a couple of months ago
*** no, actually, this one’s accurate

What are particularly of interest to me are the vast differences between the UK and the US, and I don’t just mean the old line about two countries seperated by a common language. There are things of great import in the US that simply don’t apply over here: the argument’s been won – or lost, depending upon your view – and the matter is effectively settled for a generation or more. It certainly won’t be part of any serious political discussion in the UK.

Let me take just three. I’m not going to go through the arguments for each ‘side’ and I’m certainly not going to make a case for one side or the other; I’ll merely point out that these matters are done, dusted and aren’t up for serious discussion. Sure, each of them have their amending adherents on each side, but those who demand a material change in the law are those on the fringes of serious political debate.

(1) Abortion.  There’s no-one of any seriousness suggesting that abortion should be made illegal in mainland Britain. There are debates every so often about how and when abortions should take place, but – and I do not in any way trivialise those arguments when I say this – every debate in parliament is about tinkering with the existing rules. No one serious is suggesing extending the right to everyone who wants one, say at 36 weeks, nor saying they should be banned at 6 weeks.

(2) Capital punishment. It’s gone. Done. Never to return. No matter what opinion polls suggest, no matter how ignorant the arguments made – on both ‘sides’, the UK will never allow capital punishment again. It’s done. No serious political party would ever have as a policy anything coming close to bringing back capital punishment. 

(3) The right to bear arms. The right of the general public to own and use guns. Never going to happen over here. Never. Going. To. Happen. It would be stupid to pretend that no-one has guns over here. Of course some do, and if you believe television drama, anyone with an ounce of common sense knows how to get one. Yeah, not true. We’ve never gone in for that. Some police are armed, but surprisingly – to an American, say – few. I’ve only ever seen ‘real working guns’ carried by police officers at airports and once outside a court during a terrorist trial in the 1980s.

These things are all current debates in the United States, both at a State level and for national discussion. And not one word was heard about them during the admittedly short, thankfully, official UK election campaigns during April and May this year.

While the NHS was discussed, no-one is talking about abolishing it. (Before you jump in to say that it’s being privatised by the Tories behind closed doors, I’m not going to go into that argument here, merely say that they’re not calling for its abolition.) 

Of course, one thing that the US has and we don’t is a single document entitled The Constitution. I’ve come to believe that we should have one as well; note that I don’t say that the US has a written consitution and we don’t. That’s just ignorant. Of course we have a written constitution: it’s just not in a single codified document entitled The British Constitution; instead it’s partly in various laws, partly in case law judgements, and partly unwritten. An example of the latter is the Salisbury Convention (unwritten) and The Parliament Acts (written). Together they tell the House of Lords what they can and can’t oppose when it comes to legislation proposed by a government and brought forward through the House of Commons. 

As a result – and inevitable consequence – of having that congle codified document, the Supreme Court of the United States spends, and has spent since the late 1700s – an extra-ordinary amount of time defining what the Constitution actually means, and since Marbury v Madison (1803) and then Martin v Hunter’s Lessee (1816), an awful lot of that time apportioning rights between the federal and state governments, and between the various branches of the executive and legislature.

Which is good. Which is right. A court should have the final say as to the interpretation of the law.

Which is why it remains astonishing to me that anyone on this side of the pond is against universal human rights, identified and promulgated by the European Convention of Human Rights, and interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights. I’ll have more to say about this as the government’s proposal to remove the UK from the convention and court, and replace it with a “British Bill Of Rights”. At the moment, I’m still in shock that any politician thinks this is a good idea. It isn’t. It’s a stupid, ill-conceived, ill-thought out piece of nonsense, and among the many things this government will do about which I’ll be ashamed in the next five years, this one will come near the top.