Brexit: a game for a rich young boy to play

And there it is. Done.  I have already used up all of my words of disbelief, despair and outrage, but nothing is to be done.

This is very much Brexit part 2.  I ended my last blog  with a line from Les Miserables.  I didn’t realise how ironic it would become as, I now see my friends lying similarly bloodied around me.

I also now realise that I should have quoted the whole verse.

It is time for us all
To decide who we are
Do we fight for the right
To a night at the opera now?
Have you asked of yourselves
What’s the price you might pay?
Is this simply a game
For a rich young boy to play?
The colours of the world
Are changing day by day

For that is what happened.  Whatever your views, we are where we are because of a rich young boy.  And not just one, lots of them. All young boys with points to prove, not about the world, but about themselves.

I’m forever telling my children it’s not about blame, but I’m going indulge myself with an Arya Stark list of which particular little boys I’m lining up against the blackboard.

  1. Nick Clegg.

Yes you. I was a staunch and proud Liberal Democrat in 2010.  They stood for something, had a voice which resonated.  I agreed with Nick. You could argue that was because they didn’t have power but that’s not the point. However Nick sold those principles down the river in a pact for personal power that would see the annihilation of a party.  Yes you have Deputy Prime Minister on your CV but at what price? By 2015 everyone either hated you or realised they may as well vote Tory anyway. Had the Liberal Democrats remained a strong progressive voice, and the only party in England united with Europe at its heart, the Remain campaign would have stood a chance.  The passion and emotion that were missing might have been there. Or maybe not, we’ll never know.

  1. Ed Milliband

And you.  You’re not a patch on your brother.  We all knew this.  You knew this – be honest.  But rather than let him get on with it you set out to prove something, not to the Labour Party but to yourself.  He would have given you a great job as you are clearly a clever clever man, but you were never lead singer material.

  1. David Cameron

You’re third on the list but that means nothing.  A desperate bid for a majority, a few UKIP defectors and some trash talk from Nigel Farage and you promise a referendum that nobody asked for.  One that you smugly assumed you’d win.  The complex & fragile social, political & economic future of our country was staked on a pub bet.  And now you’ve thrown down your pint and gone home.

  1. Jeremy Clarkson

Don’t think I’m letting you off Scot free. You may have turned up late with a feeble remain but your years of xenophobic sneering and hectoring to a baying crowd has led to this.  You could have been the better man, you could have chosen something else and they still would have loved you.

  1. Boris Johnson

Ah Boris, poor Boris.  You have got what you deserved.  Gaby Hinsliff explains far better than I what your game plan was all along and it has massively backfired.  Everyone around you will hate you for it for evermore.  All those liberal elite parties and soirees you bumbled around will dry up and, like the Red Queen and her Knave of Hearts, you’ll be forever chained to Michael Gove.  Good luck with that.

  1. Jeremy Corbyn

I can’t think of a single thing to say, as he has been so absent from recent proceedings. However strong his principles are, it does seem increasingly that he took on a job he didn’t really want, just to be awkward.

7. Nigel Farage

Feel free to fill in your own expletives

Rich little boys playing little games with people’s lives and futures.

There are many things you can say about Thatcher, but this would not have happened under her.  In fact, that massive storm on Thursday was probably not unconnected.

Remain lost fair and square – democracy at work.  If the Leavers are all happy, and get everything they were dreamed of, then well done them.

However there was nothing fair or square about it.  The ballot boxes had barely closed before Farage was complaining the Government had allowed too many people to register.  People hadn’t finished breakfast before he admitted that the NHS was never going to get that money, immigration wasn’t going to go down and those ‘bumps in the road’ were turning in to the Grand Canyon. Cameron’s done a runner and Bojo, Gove and the other one look set to take the helm.  These anti-establishment heroes who promised so much.

That is what people are angry about.  Not the lost vote, but they managed to pray on the fears, insecurities and hopes of people they have never cared about before in a quest for power.

Now we have to pick up the pieces, somehow. Many people, friends included, have called for an end to the whinging on social media.  And, after 48 hours of wailing, I agree.  Somehow, we have to find a way out of this mess, with or without the EU.

37% of the electorate voted Brexit, 63% did not.  Of that 37% many now feel sold down the river, or at least will do when the Calais camps move to Dover, the NHS breaks due to lack of staff and we finally realise all of those jobs that the immigrants stole were the ones they didn’t want.  That fridge magnet about “be nice to your children as they choose your care home” is just about to get real as the younger generations feel ever more like they’ve been sold down the river.

On the upside, my list is coming along nicely.  Clegg, Milliband, Cameron – all gone. Clarkson’s flapping about somewhere and Corbyn is facing a potential vote of no confidence.

It is time for the little boys to take their balls home and let someone else take over.

It is time to draw a line under the depressing referendum campaigns, hideous on both sides, and decide that we want our country back from these people, that anger and hate are not going to win.

The current political system is broken, the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats are in tatters. The Scottish are demanding another referendum but we need them more than ever. Things are no longer divided against party lines but by geography, generation and downright niceness.

Enter stage left the women  from all sides who will make a better fist of things.  Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davison, Stella Creasy, Leanne Wood, Caroline Flint, Caroline Lucas, Lucy Powell. My friend Michelle Donelan, a Conservative MP who entered Parliament at the last election who, although I disagree with, respect as someone who works for her constituents and stands up for what she believes in.

The death of Jo Cox must remind us about the kind of politicians we want to represent us, and who we deserve.

And the men. There are also a lot of fine male politicians too, and some truly dreadful female ones so don’t think this is a gender thing, it’s about leadership and integrity.

So if you didn’t vote, or regret how you did vote, it’s too late now.  But can we just vow not to make that mistake again, and not make that mistake worse by rolling over and letting xenophobia and hatred take over because that’s what won it?

Join a political party and make a stand over who gets to represent you, as leader of that party as well as your MP.  In fact, join all of them, and have a say in the best person to oppose what you believe in.

You want £350million a week in the NHS, investment in the arts, education and social justice?  You want the rights and protections of the EU preserved?  You need to fight to make that happen.  Stop complaining and vow to do something about it, and recognise that apathy, disengagement and whining only let the nastier, shoutier whiners win.

Rock Bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

  • J.K. Rowling

As a nation, it feels like we have reached rock bottom.

It might be too late for another referendum and we, as it stands, are looking at a Britain out of the EU.  But it’s not too late to mount some barricades and make a stand for exactly the kind of country we want that to be.

And let’s not let silly little boys anywhere near it.

Dad, Brexit and an end to fear

I’ll be the first to admit that my blog posts are patchy. I often have several, half written, which never get finished. Today, however, gives me an excuse to merge 3 half written posts into one, and I like to see that sort of thing as a sign of something.

This week has been one that I can only describe as bleak and I’ve found myself feeling ever more desolate.  From the scenes of English football fans throwing coins in mockery at refugee children, to Orlando, to the horrific murder of Jo Cox, the world has seemed a terrible place.

Not only is the world a terrible place, but the world is frightened.

I know a lot about fear.  In fact, I have spent most of my life being frightened. It’s not something that it easy to admit but anxiety is very much my resting face. It’s not immigrants or unelected bureaucracies that keep me awake at night; my particular brand of terror centres largely around various modes of transport and household appliances that I think are out to kill me. However I get it.  When critics say that people are merely acting out of fear, I know how powerful that fear can be.

I recently made a conscious decision that I didn’t want to be frightened any more; that I would choose something else.

These days it’s no wonder I’m fucking terrified.

The EU  debate, more than any in my lifetime, is one cloaked in anxiety, terror and fear from both sides – and I’m old enough to remember When The Wind Blows. No one is attempting to soothe anyone’s brow.  Each side has tried to beat people into submission (although it’s hard to decide whether something is scaremongering or genuinely terrifying).  People frightened of immigrants, people frightened of economic collapse, people frightened of a loss of sovereignty even when that sovereignty is wielded by people in diamond hats.

Father’s Day has very much brought these feelings to a head.  Ok I admit, not for everyone, but mainly just for me.

My father has been dead for practically all of my adult life.  He has missed all of the best bits; the wedding, the children, the dramas and the questionable decisions.  However, it seems odd to say that I don’t think I’ve ever missed him more than now – the EU referendum.

My Dad is the reason I am passionate about politics.  In most areas of my life, he was not to be questioned – house rules, dress codes, teenage tantrums – he was very much he who must be obeyed, and indeed I did. We never discussed personal issues, or emotions, or anything so liberal or namby pamby as that.  However, when it came to politics, I like to think the Marquis of Queensbury rules applied.

He was a staunch Thatcherite and ridiculously conservative for an Irish immigrant.  He was persuasive, convincing and resolutely passionate in his beliefs.

And how I raged against them – about the ozone layer, and the rainforests, and the third world and Nelson Mandela, and racism and all of those retro 80s/90s concerns.  I spent 14 years being a vegetarian (long after he’d died in fact) because he said it was a teenage phase that wouldn’t last the month – and dear God if you are party to the traumas I have with my children, feel free to laugh heartily.

We would argue over Sunday dinner which would extend late into the night.  My Mum would leave the room declaring she refused to listen for a moment longer.  I remember a particularly heated debate in an airport departure lounge, although I can’t remember the subject, where I stormed off and then remembered he had my passport. There were tears, always mine – earnest and heartfelt. But there was also an awful lot of love and respect from both of us. My Mum once took me to one side and told me that he didn’t really disagree with me at all, he just wanted me to be sure I’d thought things through.

I’ve thought of my Dad regularly over these past few weeks, and the arguments we are not having.  I reckon he would have been in the Brexit camp, and I’m pretty sure I would have stormed out of the house at least once. But at least we would have both thought things through and come out the other side secure in the knowledge that it would all be OK.

What makes me most sad, and most frightened, is that these are not the conversations we are having, anywhere, by anyone; particularly not those at the epicentre of the campaign.  There are very few people having conversations, where they are genuinely listening to anyone else’s point of view.  No one’s opinions or arguments are actually being challenged – it’s seems just one giant game of one potato two potato over who can make the other the most terrified.

No good can come of that.

The murder of Jo Cox struck me deeply.  She is exactly the person I wish I could be, if only I wasn’t so scared – compassionate, self-effacing, tenacious. If we’re talking about taking our country back – she is the embodiment of what I want our country to be.

Her death, to those who loved her, undoubtedly means pain, loss and unfathomable grief.  However, for those who admired her from afar, I hope it represents a line in the sand.

A line where we all stop being so frightened.  Whatever side people are one, I hope that our decisions are made according to our hopes and not our fears.  That for the next week we can stop talking about the worst case scenarios and start talking about the best, about the kind of people we want to be, the kind of country we want to become.

My Dad adored Les Miserables.  I’ve seen it countless times (although these days I pretend I only go to see Strindberg and things at the RSC, natch) and always revert to it in times of crisis. He liked the bad boy made good storyline but I was always all about the barricades.

This week I’ve found it comfortingly pro-remain and have hummed it a lot.

“It is time for us all to decide who we are”

And indeed it is.

Childcare again – because it still makes no sense

Today was another day for shouting at the radio, and then shouting on the radio.

At last the Government has unveiled its plans for financial help for working parents.  It has been months in the planning and the subject of bitter negotiation (apparently).  All are delighted an agreement has been reached.  I shall dig out the bunting.

Cheers Dave!
Cheers Dave!

It was heralded as a major boost to ‘hardworking families’.

However, on closer inspection, all is not what it seems.  It seems that this is yet another ill thought out policy which ticks a box on the To Do list without actually giving any thought to how it will work out there on the coal face (where all those hard working families live).

To look at the maths.  Working parents will, from 2015, be allowed to claim back 20% of childcare costs up to £6,000.  Under the current system, parents can receive employer vouchers which are exempt from tax.  This means, in reality, a 32% saving on the first £243 a month, or £486 if both parents work.  This is about £1,800 saving on a cost of £5,800.  Most parents’ costs are far greater than this, but there you have it.

The new system will give a £1,200 saving on £6,000.  It’s less, but it will be per child.  So a family with 2 children will save £2,400 etc.

However, there are flaws and anomalies which cause the policy to make no sense, or at least, penalise as many families as it helps.

It doesn’t come in until after the next election, which is quite frankly no good to anyone.

It is only payable if BOTH parents work.  “But why would you need childcare if one parent doesn’t work?”  I hear you cry.  Well, maybe one parent has lost their job and is looking for work, but doesn’t want to lose a childcare place.  Maybe, one parent has been at home looking after children for some time and now needs childcare to retrain, or gain some qualifications, or work experience.  Under current regulations, the working parent would be able to receive vouchers to cover childcare costs.  Under the new system, they will get nothing.

Never mind the fact that it is also yet another policy that completely undermines the concept of Independent taxation.

Secondly, it will begin by only being applicable to those children under 5.  At the moment, childcare vouchers are available up until the age of 15.  Therefore every parent who currently uses childcare vouchers to pay for before and afterschool care, holiday clubs etc. will now receive no help.  It has been said that it will ‘expand’ to cover children up to 12 but no timescale has been given.

Single parents will benefit, and that is a positive result (just don’t tell The Daily Mail).  The only other beneficiaries will be working couples with two or more children under 5.  Everyone else will be worse off.

I’m known for my cynicism but I can’t help feeling that the Government has another agenda here.  It does nothing to tackle the underlying problem of soaring childcare costs.  It gives another excuse to trot out the rhetoric of hard working families and rewarding strife, whilst taking money out of the back pocket while they’re talking, hoping that no-one will notice.

However, I’m someone who’s all about the solutions not the problems, so here is my own little mini budget-recommendations.

  1. Increase the threshold of current voucher scheme to a realistic level and incentivise employers to register for schemes, including help for small businesses.
  2. Don’t bother introducing vouchers for the self-employed.  Just allow them to write it on the their tax return.

There, done.

But more important than that, there needs to be a fundamental shift in the Government’s, and society’s attitudes towards parents, especially those who work.  Accept the reality that, as an economy, we need people to be in work and we need people to raise educated and capable children.  Current thinking in the press and politics at large, is that parents are a burden on employers and the state and should be begrudgingly endured.  I know I shouldn’t read the Mail Online comments but I tire of comments along the lines of ‘you had children, why should we help you pay for them’.  Well because basic economics will tell you that the economy needs people to spend money if it is ever going to recover, and there is no group in society more easily parted with ready cash than parents.  They just don’t have very much left these days.  And because working parents and their children will be paying for your pensions love, and your winter fuel allowance, and your NHS care when that hip finally gives up the ghost.

What would be revolutionary is a culture that reduced the need for paid for childcare, rather than pitting generations against each other.  An expansion of flexible working for men as well as women, including incentives for more school hours, term time only contracts; affordable housing and a decent transport system which cuts down on commuting time; an investment in technology that promotes the ability to work from home.

Now there’s an idea.