Bear Hunting

Three tweets, seen over the last two days that seem to me to demonstrate our (and the EU’s) predicament over Brexit.


eu states


Trading needs rules. Trust is regulated not a given. New agreements should not disrupt existing agreements to the detriment of the majority of participants.

fig. 2


Based on existing EU rules the UK’s ‘red lines’ determine the nature of the agreement. What we describe is Korea or Canada. What we ask for is to be friends with benefits beyond what is normally permissible.

If you were the EU would you trust us?

But the UK is important to the EU and the failure to find some accommodation with us will have an impact beyond trade. Hence:

fig. 3


There are real risks on both sides and a real question about the capacity of either to deal effectively with the issue of Brexit. The EU cannot step outside of its rules even to become a more effective actor on the world stage.

My own view – for what it’s worth – is that from the UK’s perspective there is no way back from the referendum. I don’t believe a second would achieve anything other that confirm the deep divisions in our society . We have to go through with this – which is why it’s a bear hunt – because as we all know that, when you are hunting bears, whatever obstacle you face:

‘You can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you have to go through it.’


Bear Hunting

Power Up!


Did I mention Sister Corita? We came across her by accident earlier this summer in a visit to the lovely museum of art and craft in Ditchling

We didn’t know there was an exhibition on and had gone there to see works by Edward Johnston, Eric Gill and other craft workers in the Catholic Guild Gill founded in the village.

They were political in their way. Phillip Hagreen’s prints still have power:


and a very characteristic cleanness of line, a modern unfussiness. What they don’t have is pzazz! Sister Corita has. In spades.

The connection between them is catholicism. Sister Corita was an American nun, working on prints and printmaking and, through the 50s, 60s and beyond engaging directly with the radical politics of the day – Vietnam, consumerism, poverty the need to bring christianity into people’s lives.

(from the website)
The ground-breaking work of Corita Kent (1918-1986) comes to Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft this summer. Corita was an artist, a famously charismatic educator and a Roman Catholic nun based in Los Angeles during the 1960s. A contemporary of Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha, her vibrant screenprinted banners and posters drew on pop and modern consumer cultures and became increasingly political throughout the decade. Her bright, bold work confronted issues of poverty, racism and war with an aesthetic more aligned with protest movements of the time than traditional religious imagery. Frequently appearing on the streets surrounding the Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, where she taught, Kent’s imagery aimed to capture the public imagination in order to influence social change.

The effect of walking into a room full of her prints (especially after the restraint and control of those great English craftworkers) is extraordinary.




Power Up!

Reasons for leaving

Dear …

I am writing out of courtesy to advise you that I am resigning from the Labour Party with immediate effect – direct debits and the standing order for the monthly draw cancelled!

I wanted to offer a word of explanation (which you are welcome to ignore) but I thought you might be interested in which particular straw it was that broke this camel’s back.

It wasn’t the anti-semitism stuff. A lot (not all) of the complaints about Corbyn himself do seem overstated – sometimes wildly – and I think Corbyn could make a very credible case for his actions in support of the Palestinian cause if he wished. I’d honour him for it.

It isn’t the Brexit stuff either. I can see why a party might equivocate – the people have spoken etc. – although I do deplore the lack of an authoritative, accessible critique of what the government are attempting and there is a desperate need for a post Brexit vision that is not based on the worst of neo-conservatism.

No, what’s finished it for me is this, from the LGA (Local Government Association) Labour Group:

“The LGA Labour Group is hugely disappointed by the initial report of the Labour Party Democracy Review. We had made a serious and detailed submission to the Review, a few parts of which appear to have been accepted, but the general tone of the Review in relation to local government betrays a general lack of understanding of local government, and an astonishing lack of respect towards Labour Party members who serve as councillors. Given that the original remit of the Democracy Review was to ‘develop the accountability of Labour local authority elected members’, there is no recognition within the document of the current legal and financial frameworks that councillors operate within, nor the fact that councillors are the most accountable – both to the party and to their local community – of all elected representatives. Nor is there any acknowledgement of the significant role that Labour councillors have fulfilled in protecting communities from the worst of austerity, and how Labour in local government will be an essential part of delivering the policy programme of an incoming Labour Government.

The biggest concern is that the Review proposes to ban all councillors from serving on Local Government Committees – effectively downgrading councillors to second-class membership, with no say over decisions relating to local government policy development and campaigning, and excluding those party members who have the deepest knowledge, experience, and responsibilities towards local government, not to mention breadth of campaigning expertise and financial commitment.”

For me Corbyn represented a chance to reset the centre of politics in Britain after the Osborn years. I wanted to resist that rightwards drag that had seemed to suck the Labour Party along with it. I wanted change. Naively perhaps, I wasn’t expecting that his election would open the floodgates to all the purists I’d last come across in the eighties. On top of that I am a local government man through and through and it depresses me beyond measure that the Party, instead of welcoming the best of local action and initiative, seems to be set on denying and disabling it.

We are making ourselves as stupid as the Tories. It’s an achievement of sorts – but not one I am proud of and I have decided to step outside of the party and look around a little to see if there is any one out there who I can support.

Reasons for leaving

The perils of purity

As we fidget on the edge of Autumn and the resumption of what passes for political life in this country this is a thoughtful piece from John Harris about centrism, the damaging rush to ideological purity across the political spectrum and the reasons why politics seems both detached from reality and utterly unable to deal with it:

One big tension defines where British politics has arrived. On both sides, there are a lot of people – from no-deal Brexiteers to the Corbyn hardcore – who seem to think that they are the custodians of their own variety of purity. What we are perhaps discovering is that this mindset may actually deliver the reverse: a polluted politics in which even people in positions of power keep very questionable company, debate tends to look like an indecipherable mess, and the biggest casualty is a national conversation that feels in any way useful.
— Read on

The perils of purity

That passionate intensity

I said to J a couple of days ago, nodding sagely (and, probably, irritatingly):

‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of a passionate intensity…’

It seems to me that Fintan O’Toole, in the Irish Times, is onto something here:

There are many ways to measure the state of the world and economists, ecologists and anthropologists labour mightily over them. Opening the Yeats International Summer School in Sligo last week, I suggested another one: the Yeats Test. The proposition is simple: the more quotable Yeats seems to commentators and politicians, the worse things are. As a counter-example we might try the Heaney Test: if hope and history rhyme, let the good times roll. But these days, it is the older Irish poet who prevails in political discourse – and that is not good news.
— Read on

That passionate intensity

Big brother is reviewing you

In John Naughton’s column in theObserver today he describes a chinese plan to ‘review’ the behaviour of its citizens and award or deduct brownie points depending on what you do – with real world consequences, he writes:

In particular, they are adapting the ubiquitous “reputation rating” system by which online platforms try to get feedback on vendor and customer reliability. The government is beginning to roll out its social credit system, which is designed to “raise the awareness of integrity and the level of trustworthiness in Chinese society”. It will focus on four aspects of behaviour: “honesty in government affairs”, “commercial integrity”, “societal integrity” and “judicial credibility”.

When first conceived in 2007, the intention was to replicate the credit rating systems common in the west for assessing people’s financial creditworthiness. But why, thought the Chinese, stop at finance? Why not use the technology to assess how “good” a citizen one is? Everyone starts off with a baseline allowance of, say, 100 points. You can earn bonus points by  doing “good deeds” such as separating and recycling rubbish. On the other hand, behaving in what is regarded (by the state) as antisocial behaviour can lose you points. Examples of deductible behaviour can apparently include: not showing up at a restaurant without cancelling your booking, cheating in online games, leaving false product reviews and even jaywalking. And if your social credit score is too low, you find yourself barred from taking flights or travelling on certain trains.

Read the whole column here

Thinking about all the fake, aggressive, dishonest agenda driven reviews that appear on Trip Advisor, IMDB, Amazon etc. It does make you wonder who’ll review the reviewers.

Big brother is reviewing you