Oct 292018
 
Notice on the door of the Poundworld shop in our local High Street

This week’s UK Budget is expected to reduce business rates, to reduce costs faced by shops and businesses on UK High Streets, but not by their online competitors. Media reports about recent closures of shop chains have mentioned reduced sales in High Street shops due to people buying online. Few dare to mention any loss of interest in shopping (in general) due to uncertainty faced by many households, particularly low income households, as a result of the UK Government’s seemingly incompetent handling of the UK’s departure from the EU.

Yesterday, I took a walk along our local High Street, in Sutton, which is in the suburbs of London. I took these photos of all the abandoned shops and businesses, many of which have closed in the past couple of years. Of course, there are other recent arrivals (mainly cafés, restaurants, vaping shops and nail parlours) which allow the High Street to retain some life. Nonetheless, I was left feeling quite sad about the state of what was a vibrant High Street not so long ago.

If this is happening in the relatively affluent South-East of England, I suspect that the situation is even worse in other parts of the country, particularly further North – often forgotten by Westminster parties and political leaders. In any case, the impression of decay in our own High Street is far more intense than in other parts of Europe we have visited over the past couple of years. The UK is apparently more heavily into online shopping than other countries but, even so, that cannot be the only explanation.

The owner of our favourite kebab shop confirmed to me on Saturday night that the costs of his raw materials (particularly vegetables) had already gone up significantly as a result of the 18% fall in the value of the pound since the Referendum was announced. So far, he has been absorbing this increase without raising his prices – he knows he would lose business if he increased his prices.

A significant proportion of his customers are from low income families and they have been telling him that they are uncertain about the future and are trying to spend as little as they can now. Yes, they are fed up of hearing about Brexit but that is because it is not at all the simple process they were led to believe it would be by certain politicians – instead, we now hear the Government warning that people may need to stockpile medicines and that lorries may need to be parked on the M26 (several miles from the coast) while waiting to cross the English Channel. This could explain the popularity of online shopping and the state of the High Street, which is far less busy than it used to be (and those that are there seem to be window shopping rather than buying).

Last Christmas, my holiday reading was the disturbing book Alternative War by James Patrick, a former police officer turned investigative journalist. The book tackles Russian interference in the UK’s EU Referendum and the US election of President Donald Trump, suggesting that these are elements of a ‘hybrid war’ Russia has launched using fake news and sophisticated disinformation campaigns. The book documents how ‘detached and deniable assets’ and ‘useful idiots’, such as Wikileaks, the far-right (including UKIP and Republican officials), were engaged by Russia to subvert two of the world’s superpowers and install managed democracies as part of a strategy to enhance Russia’s position and destabilise its perceived enemies.

One of the key claims of the Leave campaign was that £350m contributed per week could be spent on the NHS. However, it is now emerging that, in the event of ‘no deal’, there may be cancelled NHS operations and staff shortages.

Via Cory Doctorow, I came across this 15-minute short film American Psychosis featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges. In it, he draws parallels with totalitarian regimes he has reported on and a culture dominated by ‘pervasive illusion’ which he now finds in the US. Perhaps this is also the situation in the UK?

Lord Adonis has been travelling around the country arguing in favour of a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal (or no deal) which Theresa May is negotiating. In this article for The New European, he explains why we are now in a similar situation to the 1930s. He recommends the new book by Paddy Ashdown Nein, Standing up to Hitler 1935-1944 about the German resistance, and how it was undermined by the appeasement of the British and French Governments.

Today’s appeasers of the far right similarly recreate the weak and demoralised liberals and conservatives of the 1930s, from Germany’s Catholic ‘centre’ party which voted with Hitler in 1933 to Neville Chamberlain treating so disastrously with the German dictator thereafter. Theresa May is eerily Chamberlainite in her stubbornness, her deep ignorance of the extreme political currents swirling around her, and her appeasement of an English far right – Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the puppet Boris Johnson …

Andrew Adonis, Yes we are back in the 1930s – The New European, 25 October 2018

Meanwhile, the number of people sleeping rough in the UK has increased by 169% since 2010, with increases every year for the past 7 years. The conditions would appear to be ripe (again) for populist politicians to offer the fantasy of an easy solution: nationalism. But, as Tagore pointed out over a century ago, this approach comes with risks for the society we live in.

Throughout history, demagogues rarely need to direct the violence. They set the tone – they focus the blame, ridicule, rage and hate — and leave the violent acts to others. That way, they can always say “it wasn’t me. I don’t have blood on my hands. The culprits are out there.”
— Robert Reich (@RBReich) October 28, 2018

Robert Reich, Berkeley professor and former US Secretary of Labour

A few weeks ago, I was dismayed but not surprised to see James Patrick suggesting that the real objective of the UK Government is a ‘no deal’ Brexit, with all the harmful consequences its own documents now predict. I did find it shocking though that the reason would be to justify Ministers using their powers under the Withdrawal Act to by-pass Parliament.

In effect, this ’emergency rule’ would take the UK out of a democracy and into dictatorship. I would invite you to follow the link below and read the rest of his thread on Twitter. I hope this is not the real objective of the UK Government (whose official line is still that it is working towards an agreement with the EU27). However, as time goes by, and as the UK missed the opportunity of the recent Summit in Brussels to sign any agreement, perhaps his analysis seems increasingly likely?

With this in mind, here are some of the speeches from last Saturday’s People’s Vote march. Note particularly the comment from Tom Brake that the UK Government and Parliament have spent the past two years being so focused on Brexit that they have not tackled the real problems affecting millions of people, such as the housing crisis, reform of the education system and the state of the NHS. Maybe, in time, the people who spoke at the march will be seen as the ‘resistance’.

 Posted by at 2:54 am
Oct 222018
 

Yesterday, Kaberi and I were among the estimated 700,000 people marching for a People’s Vote on the outcome of the negotiations between the UK Government and the EU27. These comments summarise our impressions.

Yesterday’s march, which was led by young people, was a moving reminder that humanity is still a strong force in the UK. We saw people of all ages in the march, ranging from senior citizens marching for their grandchildren to children wrapped in the EU flag.

There were also many, original placards which people had made. Here are a few examples.

Meanwhile, the BBC continues to boost the profiles of politicians like Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson by quoting them ‘for balance’ every time anyone dares to question the wisdom of the UK leaving the EU.

The scale of the March felt amazing, as we stood in it. Before we set off, we heard a series of stirring speeches. Our friend Tom Brake, Brexit spokesperson for the Liberal Democrat’s, pointed out how much of a distraction Brexit has been for both the Government and Parliament. There are many other pressing issues, such as homelessness, which they could have been doing something about.

The speeches included Vince Cable uttering the most popular slogan of the day: “Bollocks to Brexit”. The rhythmic pattern of this slogan was repeated from time to time during the march using whistles.

By Sunday morning, news of the march (which eventually became the top story on BBC News on Saturday afternoon) had been removed from the BBC’s top stories. Even while the article was the main story, the first person quoted in it was Nigel Farage, who was speaking at a pro-Brexit event in Harrogate attended by 0.17% of the number of people attending the march. That there has been no follow-up of the March at all by the BBC suggests censorship rather than balance.

As we approached Downing Street, we could see many marchers heading in the opposite direction. We learned from them that access to Parliament Square had been blocked as there were too many people.

On our way to finding something to eat in Chinatown, we passed the statue of Shakespeare in the middle of Leicester Square. The quote on the lectern he is leaning on reads “There is no darkness but ignorance”. It seemed somehow appropriate for the occasion.

 Posted by at 12:51 am
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