EU Ironies

The UK has voted, by a slim majority, to leave the EU.

At the time of writing, the Prime Minister has announced his resignation, the Labour Party leader is facing calls for his resignation, much of the shadow cabinet have already resigned, Scotland is talking about a second independence referendum which may break up the union, the pound has plummeted to a thirty year low and far right parties across Europe are cheering our decision and using it to demand their own referendums. Today is Sunday, the results came through on Friday morning – even 24 hour rolling news is struggling to keep up.

I voted to remain and I was genuinely shocked when the result came through. I knew it would be close, but I was confident remain would win – why was I confident?

Well, the leave campaign seemed to be based on three main points:

  1. Immigration
  2. Sovereignty
  3. Expense

All of which didn’t seem to stand up to close examination. Most of the evidence showed that immigration had been a positive, and economically rewarding benefit to the country. Sovereignty is always being traded to be part of multi-national clubs like the EU, NATO, UN, etc. No-one seemed bothered about the others, so why should they be worried about the EU. It’s not as though we were living under occupation or a Stalinist regime. If anything our freedoms were more closely protected by Europe than they often were by our own governments. The expense, again, was something of a red herring once you factored in what we got back in return – there were problems, but it was actually quite a good deal, according to the majority of economists.

Then you add in all the other benefits we had from the EU like protection of workers’ rights, freedom to study, work, trade and live anywhere in the region and being part of a peaceful stable Europe. We should remember, that the initial idea for a European union was Winston Churchill’s. He saw it as the only way we could guarantee peace after the ravages of the second world war.

On top of that, the majority of business leaders, scientists, world leaders, economists and all the main party leaders were all united in supporting the remain cause, whereas the leave camp had Boris Johnson (who seemed to have changed sides to further his career), Nigel Farage and Keith Chegwin – how could we fail?

Well, as the dust settles it becomes apparent that many people don’t care about the arguments, or the logic, or the experts. Michael Gove said as much, and it appears he was right.

Vast swathes of the electorate simply made a gut decision on which way to vote and then only listened to anything that supported that initial choice, dismissing anything that went against it as false. I doubt any of my friends who voted leave will have read this far in fact, they’ll have realised that I’m not supporting Brexit and dismissed me as a sore loser or a whinger. They’ll point to democracy in action and tell me to get over it.

And that’s what causes the resentment, the anger and the bitterness. Not that we lost, that hurts obviously, but what beat us. It wasn’t a better argument, it wasn’t stronger logic and it wasn’t a genuine desire for a better solution. It was an impulsive, gut feeling, fuelled by emotion, fear, prejudice or insecurity. Watch the interviews with leave voters and listen to their reasons. What you hear isn’t a plan it’s catchphrases, ‘we’re taking back control’, ‘we feel British again’, ‘it’s our independence day’, you’d think it was VE Day.

In fairness, that’s what was fed to them by the Brexit campaign, but that’s all they wanted. They didn’t need or ask for any detail, which was good because it’s now apparent that there wasn’t any.

The ironies of what’s happened and what’s going to happen, are starting to come out:

Immigration – Boris has already said that he is pro-immigration and still wants us to be an active part of Europe. Most of our immigration is non-EU anyway, so it won’t be affected. The French are now saying that they don’t see why they should stop people at Calais anymore and we’ll have to deal with them on British soil. Ministers are already saying that we will probably have to accept some level of free movement to get the trade deals we need. It’s worth bearing in mind that no government has ever really been able to get a grip of immigration despite their various promises, being out of the EU is unlikely to change that.

So, for those of you that wanted tighter immigration control, it looks more likely that in a couple of years we’ll still see ministers having to explain why nothing has changed.

Sovereignty – taking back control. Who exactly is going to be getting this control? Well, in short, the elite. The next Prime Minister will be chosen by the Tories, not the British people. Even if the Tories don’t win the next general election, the chances are that Labour will have swapped Jeremy Corbyn for someone much more voter/business friendly, remember the gap between rich and poor got bigger during the last Labour government and that was before they bailed out the banks at our expense. So both ways, the top 1% wins.

Like turkeys voting for Christmas, we’ve just handed control of our future to the very people who have a vested interest in milking it for every penny. With union membership diminishing who’s going to stand up for ordinary people now – Boris?

Additional irony – many of the areas that voted to leave are also the areas that received the most EU support, what happens to them?

Expense – yes, we won’t have to send any money to the EU but if the economy suffers, then we won’t have it for anything else either. Even if the economy does bounce back, do you really think the government is going to spend it on education and the NHS? I’m not sure what you write on the side of a bus is legally binding. Boris and Michael Gove had both previously said that people should pay for treatment and hinted at an insurance model of healthcare, and Nigel Farage said on the day of the result that the promise was a mistake and he wouldn’t honour it (not that it’ll be up to him).

Great quote today from Ian Duncan Smith, “we just made a series of promises that were possibilities” – and so it begins.

Making Britain great again – well Nicola Sturgeon is already talking about a second independence referendum, and as Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, who can blame them. It was a pretty close verdict last time, so the chances are they’ll probably finally break free of us.

No Scotland, no Great Britain. No Great Britain, no Union Jack. All those people waving their red, white and blue flags and telling us how they’re proud to be British again, may have actually lit the fuse that will blow up the idea once and for all. You think we’ll stay GB without Scotland, well Wales also voted to stay in and Plaid Cymru have already talked about for a referendum of their own, as have people in Northern Ireland.

Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing in the long-term.

One of the interesting things that has come out of all this, is the division between young and old. Young people voted to stay in but as the age of the voters rose the more likely they were to vote leave – except for the oldest, who lived through the war and remembered what it was like to live in an unstable Europe, they voted to remain.

In an increasingly interconnected world, young people see themselves as global citizens. They’re not as weighed down with all the nationalism, history and misplaced patriotism. They play games with friends all over the world, they have relatives that they skype in different continents and they see the opportunity in free movement and the possibilities excite them.  But now they feel like the older generation have closed the door to those possibilities and they’re angry. They want to move into the future and the older voters just seem to want to take them back to the past. A past they don’t recognise or want.

There’s been lots of evidence of people living in the past recently, trading on old glories and selling the idea of returning to the good old days – whatever they were. Posting pictures of union jacks on Facebook, references to WWII and even pictures of spitfires flying over the white cliffs of Dover. Hey, I think the generation that lived through that period were the greatest generation, but I’m not sure it helps clarify anything about this debate. It was a different time and we live in a world they couldn’t have imagined back then.

It’s interesting that some of the most resurgent countries at the moment have come from difficult histories, whether it’s recovering from devastating wars or communist dictatorships, they have had to start from virtually nothing. Reinventing themselves anew for the modern age. Dealing with their past but not defined by it, moving forward – I saw this in Berlin where they were honest and contrite about their past but focussed on the future.

Like young people, young countries look to the future. They adapt to their circumstances and start afresh. We, on the other hand look backwards, and tell ourselves that we’re still great, expecting circumstances to adapt to us. We tell ourselves that foreigners can’t be trusted and we should rely on ourselves as we’re inherently superior because we’re British – it’s rubbish and I think it’s holding us back.

If the union does break up, maybe we’ll finally get the message that the days of empire are finally over. We’re not a superpower anymore and we should embrace it and move on. Not one ‘great’ nation but a group of separate, modern nations, in much the same way Scandinavia is. We don’t have to give up our history, but we don’t have to rest everything on it as well.

Instead of loving our country, why can’t we love our people. Instead of being proud of our history why don’t we build pride in our achievements and our future. Let’s put the flags down, get through the painful divorce period and start again with a new identity.

But please, let’s base it on rational thought and reasonable debate and not just blind impulse and prejudice. One tweet today said, that obviously, not all Brexit voters are racist, but now the racists think that 52% of the population agrees with them. Maybe that’s why there’s suddenly a rise in reports of attacks on minorities. It’s the idea that this kind of thinking has won the day that makes us remain voters feel sick and ashamed, and it’s this kind of thinking we need to fix if we’re ever really going to get back on our feet and dare to call ourselves ‘great’ again.




Beautiful Borrowdale

Another weekend, another hike. This time, Borrowdale in the Lake District.

A bit further afield this time, Borrowdale is situated in the northeast of the Lakes. It’s a stunning valley, leading down from the high fells through little hamlets like Seatoller, Rosthwaite and Grange to Derwentwater (Lake) and the town of Keswick – famous for its pencils – honestly, they even have a pencil museum!

We started in Seatoller and headed north towards Castle Crag. This is  a rocky outcrop, believed to have been the site of an ancient fort and after that much quarrying. We climbed this crag years ago when the lads were younger and it’s a great little scramble to the top. Not this time though as we decide to keep on trucking northwards towards Grange.

The weather was a little overcast but warm and dry, it cleared as the day progressed. We took our time and soaked in the sights, just enjoying being out in such a great location.

At Grange, we stopped and had tea and lemon cake, sat outside a busy teashop – very civilised, I must say. Only hampered by a large group of people sat near us who decided to try and have an impromptu game of volleyball next to us and nearly took my head of with a ball – lucky for them, it missed!

Heading back we followed the river and when it was safe to do so, we let Ziggy off the lead for a bit of a run. He would run off a bit, exploring, but eventually come back to check where we were – his recall still needs a bit of work. At one point he found a plastic bag with someone’s discarded sandwiches in them and started to devour them. I shouted for him to stop and he obviously knew his time was up so he swallowed the lot, plastic bag and all – not a lot we could do at that point, so we’re just hoping it all comes out in the wash – if you know what I mean?

Not quite as much ‘up’ on this one as our last, up Harter Fell, but probably more enjoyable. Besides, I’m feeling a bit run-down at the moment, mild virus or something, so I didn’t want to push it too much, however we are officially in training for an ascent of Croagh Patrick, in Ireland next month so we can’t slack too much – keep an eye out for more updates.


Birthday Stomp up Harter Fell

This week was my birthday, 47 – I know, hard to believe, but it’s true. Anyway, it’s been a funny few weeks lately as the country gears up for the EU Referendum, which is in just two weeks. I must confess that I’m sick of all the debate and wish we could just get it over with now. I know what I’m voting for and I’m sure most people probably have a good idea what they’re voting for by now, so it just seems like we’re going over the same ground.

Anyway, to celebrate this momentous occasion (my birthday, not the EU Referendum) I was lucky enough to have number one son, Alex, come home from York ,and along with Elliott, Clare and a few close friends, we went out for a meal at the Tiffin Rooms in Cheadle. This lovely little restaurant serves Indian street food – think tapas but Indian. 

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The food was great and the company even better, I’m very lucky to have such a great family and some brilliant friends.

I’d booked the next day off to go for a hike with Lady Hughes and the weather was glorious, so we decided to head up to Haweswater in the Lakes and climb Harter Fell, a hill I’d not done before but it looked relatively straightforward and with it being a Thursday, we’d hopefully avoid the crowds.

Haweswater is not a natural lake, it’s a reservoir, created by the construction of a dam in 1929. This was quite controversial as the creation of the reservoir meant the forced movement of the local people to provide water for my city, Manchester. According to wikipedia it currently provides 25% of the North West’s water supply.

The route was pretty easy to navigate starting with a climb to the start of a steep climb, followed by a fairly steep climb, leading to a reasonably steep climb.

Once on the tops, the views are wonderful, if a little hazy on our day. It was hot and we found the uphill section a bit of a slog to be honest, but we only stopped a couple of times and kept on moving, even if we were puffing and panting a bit – hey, I’ve just turned 47, cut me a bit of slack will you!

Looking at the map I was a little apprehensive about the descent as it looked a bit steep, but in the end it was fine, bringing us down alongside a tarn. We were soon overtaken by a group of mountain-bikers carefully picking there way through the boulders whilst trying not to fall down the mountainside face-first. A few minutes later we overtook them as they had to deal with a snapped gear mechanism. I must confess to a little happiness as I strolled past the athletic twenty-somethings all decked out in lycra – don’t worry, they’ll get over it.

We got back to the car and checked out time. The guidebook had the walk down as 2½ hours and we’d done it in just over 4. I knew we were a bit slow but I don’t think we were that bad, ah well, it wasn’t a race.

Overall, great weather, great walk, great birthday – here’s the next 47!

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Kinder with Ziggy

Here comes the sun!

I have been known to criticise the tyranny of a sunny weekend, meaning that you can’t relax when the weekend weather is good – you have to make the most of it, whether you want to or not. Now this may sound a bit miserable, so I’m trying to be positive. This weekend the weather was beautiful so I “decided” to do something with it. Lady Hughes was working this weekend so it was just me and Ziggy for a quick sprint up Kinder Scout.

The forecast was excellent, so I threw my rucksack in the back, with Ziggy’s bed – he likes to ride in style – and headed off to the Peak District. I wanted to travel light this time so I didn’t take my camera – all pictures done on my phone I’m afraid. But hey, it’s what’s behind the camera that matters!

Once there we could see some cloud on the tops but the forecast said it would burn off as the day went on, just a little haze, and this proved to correct – you see, sometimes they get it right.

Now I’ve climbed Kinder Scout many times, from many different directions but this is still my favourite, the ‘up’ bit is a short sharp shock and then it’s over, there’s a little scramble and the the views are great. We walked up through Edale, past the Nag’s Head Pub (official start of the Pennine Way), up Grindslow but quickly zig-zagging right up the Nab for a scramble up the rocks towards Ringing Roger. If all this sounds a bit confusing, get an OS map and check it out.

On the top, you get wonderful views and a perfect place for a break and a bite to eat.

We then followed the path round the edge of the plateau, heading west before going over Grindslow Knoll and then making our way back down into Edale for a medicinal pint at the Rambler’s Inn – it’s compulsory apparently, reinvesting in local economy and all that.

Ziggy was on the lead for most of the walk as there were sheep out but on the tops, well away from any livestock, I let him for a few stretches. Hi recall has improved but still isn’t perfect. Either that or he just fancied going with some other hikers for a bit.

My fitness is improving (I think?), but I underestimated the sun a bit and burnt my arms – but hey-ho, at least I had my hat. No sunstroke for me, thank you very much!

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Not sure what Ziggy made of the Peak District as this was his first visit and he’s actually from Bulgaria – but he seemed to like it.