Category Archives: politics

Many Quake, but Few are Quoken…

My absence from the blogosphere for the last week or so can be explained by this: I have been at a Gathering.  Or perhaps it was a Meeting.  Was it a meeting of minds?  Or a gathering of bodies?  Or both?  Where was it?  Who was it?  What was it?  All questions will be answered, though only in the Quaker way.  This is much like the economists’ way: ie if you ask three Quakers a question you will get four different answers.

Quakers.  As Romeo might have cried, wherefore are ye Quakers?  The answer lies in history, in an insult hurled at Friends who, inspired to speak, might quake in body or voice.  In true Friends’ fashion they took the insult and turned it into a name for themselves.  (I don’t know, there are so many words we can’t use any more: queer, Quaker…)

A week is a long time at Quaker Yearly Meeting, also – confusingly – known as Yearly Meeting Gathering.  A Gathering happens but one year in three, and is a residential affair, a sort of cross between a conference and a retreat.  There are meetings for worship and meetings for business (thought it’s often hard to tell the difference) and a bewildering profusion of workshops, lectures and plenary sessions (I’ve never been quite sure what a plenary session is, though OH helpfully informs me that it’s ‘when everyone gets together.’  Thanks…)

So: that took place at Warwick which, apart from being Margaret Thatcher’s favourite university is a pleasant place, open and airy with lots of trees and leading quickly onto farmland and woods (where I walked one morning with a group of Friends.)  By the end of the week it seemed I’d been there half my life; long enough, indeed, to write a poem about my experiences.  I read this out at the final meeting and it was well received: many people asked for a copy, and you can read it below.  There were a couple of interesting lectures from Quaker politicians; one MP and one MEP, on their experiences of bringing Quaker ethics into politics.  I even managed a couple of early-morning meditation sessions.

After that I had only a day’s rest (or half-rest, since I did a poem at the Hiroshima day vigil in Loughborough) before being plunged into an unexpectedly ferocious walk.  At the moment I’m good for seven miles on the flat or up gentle hills; however this walk was seven miles not on the flat or up gentle hills.  The first bit was fine, meandering through a valley, but being Derbyshire there was no getting away from the hills, and up we went.  And up, and up some more and then much more seriously up and finally I could take no more and declared that it was time for lunch.  After lunch we climbed the final bit to the top, and I was assured it was all downhill from then on.  However, what was not specified was exactly what sort of downhill.  And this was not a gentle downhill; nor was it even a steep downhill, it was a quite unfeasible downhill.  A path quite clearly marked on the OS map was simply not there; and following where it ought to have been led us down a vertiginous and unreasonably thistly slope to a thicket of bracken and thorn bushes.  The way seemed hard, if not impossible.  The words ‘going back up’ were pronounced, whereupon I mutinied.  I could not, and would not, go back up.  And that was flat.  It was the only thing that was flat but flat it was.  So we hobbled, skidded and fell down the bumpy slope into the valley and struggled through an inhospitable landscape to find the path which our more sensible friends had found half an hour before.  It was not fun.  The rest of the walk along the river Derwent would have been delightful had I not been so exhausted.

However, the views were tremendous.  And the company was good.

And that’s us up to date.  How have you been?

Kirk out

PS Oh, I nearly forgot – here’s the poem.

Gold Star

(on my first Yearly Meeting)

 

First I was afraid –

you might say, petrified –

when the plan was laid

that QYM be tried;

I wanted to refuse

curl up like a recluse

but something told me: choose

to be a Yearly Friend

 

From early intimations

upon a box of oats

of wholesome men with hats on

dispensing Quaker quotes;

vague notions of the logo,

love and peace and cocoa

(though not like John and Yoko)

that’s what I knew of Friends.

 

As the years increase

I find my spirit’s kin,

witnesses to peace

that never were sworn in

link arms around the fence

sing madness into sense

and speak the present tense

that’s what I learned of Friends.

 

Midway along this road

I happened on a Meeting;

I sat, I shed my load

amid that silent seating;

but I had no prognosis,

no great apotheosis:

it happened by osmosis

that I became a Friend.

 

So here at QYM

(or is it YMG?)

I’ve come to sense the stem

of something that is me:

though I wobbled at the gate

and got into a state

something told me: wait

and find your way with Friends

 

And now I am afraid –

you might say, petrified –

because our time is played

and, Friends, I need a guide

to light me back to earth

where peace has little worth

and where there is a dearth

of people who are Friends.

 

Let’s lift up that gold star

and set it in the sky

so when we travel far

we hold its halo high

the circle growing vast

we feel the light that’s cast

until we come at last

to meet again as Friends.

 

© Liz Gray, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Brexit: A Farce in Two Acts

Here’s a summary of my latest creative endeavour, a fifteen-minute radio play entitled ‘Brexit: a Farce in Two Acts’.

Act 1

Scene 1: The f*** up.

Dodgy Dave wants to screw Britannia, whom he fancies.  Urged on by his mate Nigel, manager of thrash metal band ‘The Kippers’, he asks her out and decides to sleep with her.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Scene 2: the consequences

Dave has had his fun and goes whistling back to No 10 for a good night’s sleep.  He’s so sure nothing can go wrong, he refuses even to consider advising Brit to take a morning-after pill.

Scene 3

Unfortunately, 52% of Dave’s sperm were fertile and Brit has a positive result to her test.  In one year she will give birth to a child who will be called Brexit.

Dave refuses to do the decent thing and support Brit: appalled at the news, he scarpers and is never seen again.

Act 2: Brexit

Brexit is born, but it is clear that she has multiple handicaps.  Misshapen, misbegotten and malformed, her mere presence divides the country in two: those who think she should be strangled and those who think she’ll be absolutely fine in spite of everything.

Brex is an unhappy child, forced at a very early age to go to Brussels and negotiate with the EU even though she doesn’t know what she wants apart from three words written on a piece of paper: strong, stable and hard.

Seeing the state her child is in, Brit is devastated.  She is diagnosed with acute schizophrenia and sent to lie down in a darkened room.  Brexit comes back from Brussels with another piece of paper, though what is written on it is not yet clear.

I’ve written this into a fifteen-minute play and will look for a suitable slot on which to perform it.

Kirk out

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Nothing Will Come of Nothing…

… speak again.’   So says Lear to Cordelia – and pretty soon the government are going to have to say it to the electorate, ‘speak again – because we didn’t quite hear you the first time.  You weren’t enunciating properly.   You were trying to say too many things at once and we couldn’t make out what you wanted.’

Still, muddled as the result is, some things are pretty clear: first, that most commentators vastly underestimated Corbyn and his supporters.  I had felt for a long time that the press were overplaying their hand and that by getting out and talking directly to the public, JC could get past them.

https://wordpress.com/post/lizardyoga.wordpress.com/9023

And I’ve largely been proved right: the press threw everything they had at Corbyn and he still increased Labour’s share of the vote by 10% and the number of seats to 262, even winning ‘unwinnable’ seats like Canterbury and – what the hell? – Kensington.  Kensington!!

His critics are queuing up now to apologise and say they misjudged him: Owen Smith, Alistair Campbell, Yvette Cooper and so many others are falling over themselves to apologise and offer to serve in the shadow cabinet.  Likewise media commentators: Jon Snow yesterday and said ‘I know nothing about elections,’ and even the BBC has admitted its error, Laura Kuenssberg once again causing me to shout at the screen when she said that Corbyn had been subjected to unfair criticism.  ‘Yes, by you!’ I yelled.

We still need to win an election; but that is looking increasingly achievable now.  May’s hold on power is so tenuous and her coalition so weak and misguided that it is not a matter of whether she goes, but when.  Under any other circumstances than these, a Prime Minister who had called an election to increase their mandate and had instead lost seats would have to resign, not carry on as though nothing had happened.  Whether it be days, weeks or months; whether it be a leadership election or a vote of no confidence, she will be out.  And when there is an election Labour, with its membership now at 800,000 and rising (more than 150,000 new members since the election), are poised to win – and win decisively.  I watched JC on television yesterday: he looked poised, relaxed, assured and confident.  It was a pleasure to see.

Now is not the time for recriminations.  Now is the time to form a government.  JC4PM!

Kirk out

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Please Stand By. Calculating the Results of Your Election. Please Stand By…

Please stand by: conservative spokespersons are trying to find something positive to say about the election.  Meanwhile here is some light music:

The story so far:

We had an election.  Nobody won a majority.  Lots of people wanted the Maybot to resign but instead she went to see the Queen and had tea.  Here is a reconstruction of their conversation:

Maybot:  Your Majesty.

Queen:  Mrs Maybot.  One understands you have called an election to increase your majority and have in fact decreased it, causing one some concern as to your sanity.

Maybot:  Yes, your Majesty.

Queen:  Well, what have you got to say for yourself?

Maybot:  I know I’ve been naughty but please can I form a government with my friends from Northern Ireland?

Queen:  Won’t that threaten the peace process?

Maybot:  No.  Absolutely not.  Strong and stable, strong and stable.

Queen:  Oh all right then.

Meanwhile in another corner of London Tony Blair emerges from the cupboard where he has been held hostage.  He emerges blinking into the daylight to learn the news that parliament is hung and that his bete noir (or rouge) the Corbynista, has smashed his way to an increased share of the vote.  Just as he is swallowing this indigestible news, a reporter approaches.

‘Mr Blair?  What’s your reaction to the news?  Do you regret being so critical of Mr Corbyn?  Would you like publicly to apologise like Owen Smith and Yvette Cooper?  Mr Blair?  Mr Blair?’

But Blair has slunk off and is nowhere to be seen.  Latest reports indicate he is holed up in a bunker plotting his return to power.

More on this as it emerges.  Meanwhile back to the studio.

Kirk out

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The People Have Spoken – Sort Of

Yes, the people have spoken.  But we’re still trying to work out exactly what it is they’ve said.  Before I try to untangle it, there are some features of this election that are fairly clear:

First, young people were key.  Everyone thought they wouldn’t bother: everyone was wrong.  Young people came out and voted in large numbers, boosting the turnout in many places by students and young voters.   When I turned up to vote I was told they’d been very busy due to large numbers of students from the nearby college and university: ‘we’ve never seen anything like it,’ said one member of staff.  When our candidate went to the university he was met by 2000 students going in to exams, many of whom shook his hand and said they’d voted for him (in the end he failed to get in, though he halved Nicky Morgan’s majority.)

Second: the turnout was high.  In general there was a high degree of engagement in this election, due in part to Brexit but on the left to urgent concerns about the NHS and social care, and the privatisation of public services.  Overall the turnout was nearly 69%, more than two points higher than 2015.

Third, and for me most important: Jeremy Corbyn.  Here was an elected leader who from the word go had been derided, attacked, slandered and smeared by the press; treated unfairly by the BBC and undermined by his own party.  No sooner was he elected than they set up someone to oust him; he was given no chance in this election.  many feared defeat worse than 2015.  But they were wrong.  Commentator after commentator has (finally!) paid respect to how he has fought and won seats to turn the election round.  Labour have taken key seats from the Tories and although they have not gained enough to be the largest party, it is not over yet.  If all falls apart in the Tory camp we are waiting in the wings to form a minority government.  This, in my view, shows what can happen when, under election rules, the media are forced to report more fairly on the issues.  In the space of weeks, JC turned from a hate figure to someone whose policies and campaigning proved massively popular, attracting tens of thousands to public rallies and millions more on live feeds.  Canterbury, which has been Tory since Chaucer, became Labour; Derby North returned to Labour and many others were won or retained while Tory strongholds were threatened.  Amber Rudd nearly lost her seat in Hastings and the Kensington result has yet to come in because they’ve had a thousand recounts and the staff are all comatose.

So where are we?  To be honest, nobody knows.  May has no intention of resigning, though resignation would seem to be indicated, partly because there is no obvious leader to take over and partly because to resign might, it is suggested, precipitate another election.  And another election is the last thing anyone wants right now.

So at the moment it looks like the Tories will try to do a deal with the DUP.  This is not great, but I for one am massively relieved that they didn’t get an increased majority, since it looks like the end to privatisation of the NHS, the end to a hard Brexit and – please god – the end to Murdoch and Dacre dictating the results of elections.

Phew!

I am now exhausted.  I don’t know how politicians do it.

Kirk out

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How Does Your Garden Vote?

What with my time being divided between canvassing and gardening at the moment, it was inevitable I should eventually get round to thinking of the election in terms of gardening.

The other day we were having a discussion with someone on Facebook about manifestos: OH had opined that the Conservative one seemed devoid of content and asked for opinions from Tory voters, to which one friend replied that the point of Conservatism is precisely not to have ideas but to allow the economy to function on its own: to, as it were, find its own level.  The phrase ‘find its own level’ is reminiscent of water, but my mind turned to gardens.

So, imagine if you will, our nation as a garden.  When you start out, there seem to be two ways to go.  You can try to control everything: you can spray every weed, get everything out of your lawn that is not grass, have neat rows of flowers and veg and not a single weed.  This looks scarily controlled, and leaves no space for spontaneity or creativity.  In political terms, this represents total state control as practised by the Soviet Union and others (I won’t call it communism because it wasn’t).

Alternatively, you can practise the opposite policy of unfettered capitalism, and leave the garden to regulate itself.  Initially, this allows for plenty of spontaneity; but after a while the weeds take over and you end up with a garden full of the strongest, most invasive weeds – brambles, horsetail, nettles, dandelions and poison ivy.  Nothing else is allowed to flourish, and useful flowers and veg are throttled.  And so it is that capitalism swallows everything: public services, health, even democracy itself if we let it.

What we need, I suggest, is a mixture of the two: we need judicious pruning and weeding for beneficial plants to flourish; we need a zero-tolerance policy towards brambles, ivy and of course horsetail; and for other, somewhat beneficial weeds such as dandelions and nettles, we allow them to grow in moderation and in the right place.  This represents a mixed economy and in my view, allows the best of both approaches.

We need a mixed economy in order to flourish.  Capitalism has its place: innovation and creativity often flourish here.  We need creative people like Dyson, to name one person off the top of my head.  And public ownership has its place: some industries are natural monopolies, and essential services ought to be run in the public interest.

So, to summarise: if profit is allowed to permeate everything you get corruption.  If the state controls everything you can get stagnation.  Some things ought to be nationalised, most industries should stay privately run, and that way everything in the garden will grow in a balanced environment.

It’s not perfect, but what is?  A mixed economy is like democracy: it’s the worst system apart from all the rest.

Kirk out

 

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Getting in a Flap for Labour

We’re ramping up towards the election now (as if you didn’t know) and Corbyn is doing far better than anyone thought he would.  It’s not over yet though, and every vote counts; to which end I have been out leafletting.  Now, as I remember from my days on the Christmas post (every student did a stint on the Christmas post in the ’70’s) letter-boxes come in all shapes and sizes.  Well, not all shapes exactly; but they vary more than you might think: and not all of them are designed for the helpful transition of post from hand to doormat.

It is Labour party policy to have a spatula handy for poking leaflets through and avoiding the nipping of fingers by over-eager dogs.  But even with a handy spatula it is not a piece of cake.  Sure, there are the nice and easy letter-boxes that say come on in; a single flap that opens and closes with the ease of a well-oiled door.  But these are few and far between, and the older ones seem designed to accept nothing larger than a business card, causing valuable leaflets to be folded or squished.  But it gets worse.  Modern letter-boxes have two flaps: an outer one which you lift, and an inner one which you have to push against.  Between these flaps sit two sets of bristles, designed presumably to remove any stray dirt from the post.  It can be quite a performance getting a single leaflet through these letter-boxes; but some houses are not content with this level of difficulty and add a ferocious hinge meaning that if the dog doesn’t get you the letterbox will.

Honestly, don’t people want post?  You begin to wonder: for in addition to the letter-box problem, in richer areas you first have to play ‘hunt the door’.  Some houses seem to delight in hiding their front doors behind a hedge or round a twiddly wall – or else you have to guess which side of the house it’s on, and inevitably it’s not the side you try first.  This seems to me almost a sort of arrogance, like not signposting the entrance to some exclusive club.

But all is not straightforward in poorer areas either; many HMO’s (houses in multiple occupation) have the front rooms as a bedroom and ask you to trudge down an alleyway and locate a postbox at the back.

And – I will never again do this on bin-day: everybody’s bins were in the way.

Anyway, all local households have been issued with a Labour party leaflet which I hope and trust they will read, mark, learn and inwardly digest before going out to vote.

To vote Labour!

Kirk out

 

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