Tuesday 28 June 2016

Brexit:The aftermath

To say that I'm gutted by the decision to leave the EU would be an understatement.

I went to bed last Thursday night quietly confident that the Remain vote would scrape a narrow victory. How wrong I was. I don't think I've ever been so disappointed by an election result in my life.

I'm not going to pretend that I'm happy with the result and it annoys me when people who voted Leave keep telling me that we all need to accept the result and unite for the good of the country.

Sorry I'm not interested. This is the problem with having referendums. They're divisive, splitting family, friends and partners.

I'm firmly of the view that the country has made a massive mistake and I resent the attitude of: 'We're Britain, we'll be alright, we can do this'

Really? The country is in chaos! The Prime Minister has resigned, the opposition in disarray and it's clear that the leaders of the Leave Campaign,
Boris Johnson and Michael Gove don't have a plan for what happens next.

It's clear that they didn't really think they were going to win, where the hell did Boris disappear to over the weekend? A total lack of leadership.

What annoys me the most about the referendum and it's something I mentioned in my last post is that it was a mistake to have a referendum. The problem with referendums is that people make their choice based on a whole range of different factors.

Immigration was the defining issue for a lot of voters but the question of whether you think there are too many immigrants coming into the country is too simplistic when considering all the pros and cons of maintaining EU membership.

What really annoyed me is the likes of Michael Gove encouraging an anti establishment, anti intellectual approach to the vote, telling voters you can't always believe and trust experts and elites. It's a bit rich coming from someone who is part of the establishment.

I don't know enough about the issues so of course I'm going to listen to experts in economics or from business who can help inform me. But sadly what's clear is that sometimes you can give people all the facts and it will make no difference.

The vote has shown a kind of anti establishment backlash from a lot of working class voters. The so called 'left behind'. Those who are frustrated with the status quo, who feel rightly or wrongly that their identity is being eroded. These are all valid points but they don't necessarily relate directly to the question of EU membership.

What's really been worrying is the rise of the racism and hate crimes against Eastern Europeans and British Black and Asian people. As someone who's roots are in the Caribbean and who's family have lived here for over 60 years it makes me angry that this vote seems to have given some idiots the right to openly express bigoted and racist abuse at people.

At the moment I feel the country is in meltdown and I'm angry with our political leaders for putting the country in this position. It didn't have happen. We may be leaving the EU but I still want to have as close a relationship with Europe and the EU in the future.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

My mind hasn’t changed, I’m still voting to remain in the EU

How are you feeling about the EU referendum? Do you know what you’re doing tomorrow? Have you had enough of the endless claims and counter claims from both sides?

Tomorrow I'll be voting to remain in the EU - it's never been in doubt for me. I'm one of those people who have always known their feelings towards the European Union. We could have had a referendum last year, 5 or 10 years ago and I will still have voted to remain in the EU. There was never anything the Brexit camp could say to change my mind.

I'm glad the vote is finally upon us. I've had enough of the debate. A few weeks ago I was really beginning to get fed up of the whole thing. Firstly because I've always known how I was going to vote but secondly because I was getting fed up of the nature and rhetoric of the debate.

At various points during the campaign I really feel as if both sides have insulted my intelligence. Comments such as the one made by House of Commons leader, Chris Grayling in which he said Brexit would help young people get on housing ladder!

Really! Surely building more houses might make a difference?

Then you have the NHS. We've had to listen to how leaving the EU could free up more money for the NHS? Or how staying in the EU is a threat to the NHS.

When it was announced that we would be having a referendum on EU membership I thought it was a good idea but now that we're at the end of the campaign I think holding a referendum has been a mistake.

Debating the merits of EU membership covers a whole number of different issues in regards to British jobs and the economy, national sovereignty, EU Laws and regulation, immigration, EU subsidies.

For those of us who follow politics and current affairs, understanding all the complexities of the issues and getting to the facts isn't easy and is arguably more difficult for those people that don't normally follow politics.

After reading this article in the Birmingham Post today: Opinion: Lets not have anymore referendums

I've come to the conclusion that having referendums aren't a good idea. Let our elected Members of Parliament make these decision on our behalf. That is the role of Parliamentary democracy and the reason why we elect MPs.

What we've seen is the debate reduced to simplistic soundbites like 'lets take our country back' or project fear from the Remain campaign. The one issue that has totally dominated the debate is that of immigration and even that isn't debated properly in an objective manner.

What I thought could be a really great exercise in democracy has for me been a bit of a disappointment. The Remain campaign have at times presented a vision of Armageddon should we leave the EU, while the Brexit camp have presented a vision of a glorious utopia ahead for the country should we finally cut ourselves free from the EU which for too long has held us back and forcing their laws on us.

The EU vote represents many different things for different people.

One thing that has really stood out for me about this referendum is that the way people feel and decide how to vote is very much a reflection on how they see and experience living in the UK. It's also about what type of you country you think the UK is and should be in the future.

I'm quite happy to admit that my vote to remain in the EU perfectly reflects my demographic background. I've lived and worked in London for the last 15 years. London and Scotland have the biggest support for remaining in the EU. I'm university educated, in fact I also have a post graduate degree. I'm reasonably well traveled and have visited many countries in Europe.

In terms of my job and annual salary I'm pretty much Middle Class. Although I certainly don't consider myself wealthy I earn an above average salary and in many ways I'm quite comfortable. All of these things point towards someone who would naturally vote towards remaining in the EU.

However, I've begun to realise that the country is incredibly divided. What's been really interesting is seeing how many traditional working class Labour supporters in the North and the Midlands are keen to leave the EU. There views and experiences of life in the UK are very different.

If you're in low paid insecure work, you live in communities which have received high levels of immigration from Eastern Europe, if you feel that mainstream politics has little to say to you or even understand your life you're more likely to want to leave the EU. Not necessarily because the EU is the cause of these things but because the EU referendum is an chance to express those feelings of unhappiness about the status quo.

During the last few weeks I've been watching a series of short films by the Guardian journalist John Harris. He's been travelling to towns and cities across the UK to discuss people's feelings about the EU referendum and how they feel about the state of things in the country.

I've found it fascinating to watch. In his latest film which you can click on below, he talks about a divided and angry Britain and the referendum campaign has highlighted this split.

From my own personal point of view, I don't share some of these concerns or frustrations but I understand and recognise that there are a lot of people in parts of the country which aren't thriving, where job opportunities aren't great, who feel threatened by EU migration and they want to make their feelings heard.

Leaving the EU won't solve these problems

As someone who believes it's better for Britain to remain inside the EU, the argument I would make to those people who feel fed and disillusioned is to say that voting to leave the EU won't solve many of the problems and concerns they have. It's as if voting out of the EU is a way of giving the establishment and the elites a bloody nose.

This would be all well and good if it somehow made a positive difference but I don't think it will. Even if we leave the EU, there will still be some form of immigration. There will be some downturn in the economy which many business leaders and economists believe will happen and many of the problems and frustrations people are feeling will remain.

Many of the problems people are protesting about are of the result of globalisation and economic policies of the last 35 years and what could be described as the crumbling of the neo-liberal economic consensus.

Admittedly it's up to individual people how they vote and their reasons for doing so; but I feel that some of the frustrations people feel shouldn't be directed solely at the European Union.

Why I want to remain in the UK

I've had a think of some of the reasons why I want to remain the in the EU. Here's a selection:

  • I want the UK to play a major role in the European Union, I don't want us to be outsiders. I think we will have more influence on a global stage by staying in the EU

  • The EU needs reforming and I want the UK to be part of and shaping those reforms

  • Economically we'll be worse off

  • Leaving the EU could lead to the eventual breakup of the EU

  • Part of me feels European

  • THe EU has given us rights and protections that many us benefit from even though we may struggle to recognise or identify these benefits

  • leaving the EU will probably mean a change of leadership in the Tory Party. I'm not interested in seeing Boris Johnson as PM

  • Tomorrow's vote is going to be close. I can't see either side winning more than 55% of the vote but I'm quietly confident that by Friday morning, those of us on the Remain side will have won.

    Friday 17 June 2016

    The death of Labour MP Jo Fox

    I feel incredibly sad and shocked at the murder of Labour MP Jo Fox yesterday.

    It feels like such a senseless and pointless act on someone who became an MP to make a difference to people's lives.

    I have to admit until yesterday I'd never heard of Jo Fox, she was only elected to Parliament in 2015 but she had been involved in Labour Party politics for the last 20 years.

    I've heard and read some amazing and heartfelt tributes to her both in terms of her personal and professional qualities and achievements. What stands out is that she was someone who was incredibly intelligent, committed and passionate about the causes she believed in and representing the people of her constituency in the area where she was born and brought up.

    It made me think that we live in such cynical times that when we think about politicians there is an almost default reaction that says all politicians are out of touch, career politicians, only interested in themselves. They're all the same, untrustworthy and will say anything to win votes or to further their own careers.

    In the last 12 months or so I've started to reconsider this type of cynical and at times lazy stereotype. It's not easy to become an MP and like a lot of careers it takes a huge amount of hard work, commitment, sacrifice, intelligence, passion and luck to get elected and to make a positive contribution to the constituencies and people they are elected to represent.

    With almost perfect timing, I came across this article in today's Times by Phillip Collins. He wrote:

    "I am tired beyond words of the cynical nonsense spouted every day by professional pundits (as well as amateur ones) that politicians are just in it for themselves, want nothing other than glory or the opportunity to fiddle bath plugs on their parliamentary expenses. Attention must be paid. Most MPs, of all parties, are decent people doing a tough job as well as they can."

    I thought this one point sums up perfectly how I feel.

    Jo Fox was someone who became an MP after she turned 40, yes she had a life and career outside what we call the 'Westminster bubble' and she didn't have to go into politics. There a many like her. MPs from all sides of the political spectrum, many who were elected in 2010 and 2015 who have gone into politics later on in life not for personal self interest but because they want to dedicate some of their lives to public service. Jo Fox did this and lost her life for it.

    I know that in the coming days and weeks we will look back on her death and ask what lessons we can learn about how we discuss and do politics in this country. I hope one lesson we can learn is to remember some of the genuine reasons and sacrifices our MPs make to represent us.

    Monday 6 June 2016

    Muhammad Ali: Without doubt the greatest

    What a year 2016 is turning out to be with the loss of so many influential, visionary and legendary figures in music, sport and entertainment.

    This weekend we said goodbye to Muhammad Ali, quite easily the greatest sportsman the world has ever seen.

    For those people who aren't interested in sport, such a statement might seem hyperbolic and over the top but I'm in absolute agreement with all the tributes and reflections on Ali's life and career.

    What made Muhammad Ali so special?

    Looking at his career in sporting terms, he is arguably one the greatest boxers to have ever lived and probably the best heavyweight champion of the world. He won the heavyweight championship 3 times in an era that is regarded as the golden age of heavyweight boxing.

    To be a true sporting great you have to transcend your sport and very few people can do this. This is what I think makes Ali so special. He became not just a sporting icon, but also a political, and cultural icon for millions of people around the world.

    It's important to look back on the type of world the 1960s were when Ali first burst onto the scene. In America it was the time of the Civil Rights movement with African Americans asserting their rights to be treated equally and with dignity in America.

    Ali emerged during that time as a talented, charismatic, funny, handsome, arrogant, loudmouth who wasn't afraid to tell the world how great he was. At the time Ali or Cassius Clay as he was still known, represented everything that White America feared and hated most about black men. His attitude, confidence, and outspokenness was a threat - particularly during a time of heightened racial tension.

    When he beat Sonny Liston to win the heavyweight crown in 1964, nobody gave him a chance against the brutish Liston. But that fight announced him to the world and it feels incredibly sad to know that he's no longer here.

    Converting to Islam and following the teachings of the Nation of Islam again showed that here was someone who was ready to stand up for his beliefs and values regardless of whether they upset or threatened the establishment.

    The one thing that always stood out for me about Ali's greatness and influence was his decision in 1967 to refuse to fight in the Vietnam War. It's hard to imagine today any sports star deciding not to participate in say a World Cup or an Olympics based on a point of principle.

    Ali refused to fight in Vietnam as he said he had no problem with the Vietcong. What I always found ironic about his decision was that there were many in America who accused him of being a traitor to his country, yet America continued to treat African Americans as second class citizens but still expected them to fight in foreign wars to protect freedom and oppose Communism.

    That decision resulted in Ali being banned from boxing for 3 years and he essentially sacrificed some of the best years of his career. Just that act makes Ali a true hero in my eyes.

    The comeback

    When Ali returned to boxing in 1970 there was no guarantee that he would become heavyweight champion again. Some of the speed and grace he had in his earlier career was gone but he adapted. It was something he had to do if he was to take on the likes Joe Frazier and George Foreman. His fights against Frazier and Foreman are legendary, especially the 'Rumble in the Jungle' against Foreman in 1974.

    With all great life stories there is triumph and tragedy and the tragedy about Muhammad Ali is that he continued to fight for too long into the late 70s. He really should have retired after his brutal fight against Frazier 'The Thriller in Manilla' in 1975.

    Over the weekend I've watched clips of some of his famous interviews with Michael Parkinson. What's really sad is in his final interview in the early 80s you can see the physical and mental deterioration in Ali. The spark, and the wit was just not there, he was a shadow of the man he had been. All those blows to head in the ring had sadly taken their toll.

    His subsequent battle with Parkinson's disease almost adds to the mystique and respect you have for Ali. You could say it was a tragic way to spend the second half of his life but his first 40 years were so eventful so colourful and packed with drama that he'd done more in 20 years than most of us achieve in a lifetime.

    My own personal story

    I actually got to see Muhammad Ali as a small child growing up in Birmingham. He came to the city in 1983 to open a Community Centre called the Muhammad Ali centre in Hockley Birmingham.

    My Dad took me along and he was a huge boxing fan. As a child I always knew who Ali was as he was the most famous boxer in the world. I remember the day he came to Birmingham quite clearly as I could sense there was this huge feeling of anticipation amongst the crowd as everyone waited for Ali to appear.

    When I look back I feel proud to be able to say that I saw Muhammad Ali.

    The icon

    The tributes and accolades given to Ali over the weekend demonstrate that his greatness was a lot more than just being a talented and successful athlete. It's about who he was as a parson and what he represented. He was equally a political activist, poet and entertainer who challenged people.

    We could never have another Muhammad Ali today. Our society is completely different and no sports star could emerge and be so outspoken, so charismatic and challenging as Ali was.

    When we look for heroes in our lives and in our society I look at someone like Ali as someone who could do the things you can't do, say the things you would like or can't say. Be the person that you would like to be. At various times Ali was all of those things to me. There will never be anyone like him again.