The Unfinished Symphony

It is rare that Dutch politics ever makes the news in the UK. Compared to the adversarial bloodsport that is Westminster politics, the Dutch system of coalition and consensus can make for fairly stale viewing. But if politics is measured by what you achieve, then Dutch politics has been a great success when judged against the low-grade, childish squabbling that is the daily fare in Westminster.

But the anonymity of Dutch politics might be about to change. Dutch voters are gearing up for an election on 15th March and there is a wild card in the pack, somebody who is trying to usurp the established order. His name is Geert Wilders and he wants to be the new sheriff in town. 

He’s part of the populist (whatever that over-used word now means) movement that is currently sweeping across the western world. He’s from the finger-jabbing, rabble-rousing, far right school of populism. Think Nigel Farage without the faux bonhomie and his pint-drinking-man-of-the-people bollocks, and mix it with the outrageous statements and belligerence of Donald Trump (and the same barber) and that’s Wilders. He seems a man who is permanently angry, the sort of person who gets out of bed irritated and goes to bed furious. But his Freedom Party (PVV) is currently heading the polls and could receive over 20% of the vote. After years of voting for rather dull, if competent, politicians, the idea of voting for somebody who says what he thinks and does what he says is beginning to appeal to increasing numbers of Dutch voters. 

But his policies and ideas are abhorrent to many. Wilders’ party, the PVV, have produced a one page manifesto for the upcoming election, and it focuses on their long term concerns of immigration and de-Islamizing The Netherlands. Titled Make The Netherlands Ours Again, it states that Dutch people have had ‘enough of mass immigration, asylum, terror, violence and insecurity’ and proposes that ‘instead of financing the entire world and people we don’t want here, we’ll spend the money on ordinary Dutch citizens’. Its policies call for the closure of all mosques and Islamic schools, a ban on the Koran, a ban on Islamic headscarves in the public sector, no more immigration from Muslim countries, closing the borders, no more asylum seekers and the withdrawal of residence permits for asylum seekers already living here. These measures would, apparently, save the country €7.2 billion. 

Wilders has long had form for disliking Islam and, only a few months ago, was tried for promising to reduce the number of Moroccans in the country. His trial was triggered by remarks he made during municipal-election campaigning in The Hague in 2014. At a rally he asked supporters whether they wanted “fewer or more Moroccans in your city and in the Netherlands”. When the crowd chanted back “Fewer! Fewer!” a smiling Mr Wilders responded: “We’re going to take care of that.” He was convicted of insulting a group and inciting discrimination.

But it’s not just Muslims he dislikes. Several years ago his party set up a website encouraging people to make complaints about Poles and other Eastern Europeans. I suspect he might be the sort of man who dislikes almost everybody and everything, particularly those who disagree with him. His own brother said that Wilders’ “doesn’t accept any opposition, whether family or not, and rules his world like an emperor”.

Other parts of his manifesto might help to explain his popularity. Alongside the Islamophobic hatespeak are: returning the retirement age to 65; lower rents for social housing; more money for defence and police; lower income tax and no more money for development aid, wind farms, art, innovation and broadcasting. The net cost of this manifesto magically being zero is a fairytale of which Hans Christian Andersen would be proud.

Wilders also wants to withdraw from the EU, despite the fact that 70% of Dutch exports go to other EU countries. Much of Dutch history and most of its economic prosperity has been derived from its openness to the rest of the world. They are a nation of traders and an export powerhouse. The crown jewel of the Dutch economy, the port of Rotterdam, is the gateway to the rest of the EU and is totally reliant on open borders and no trade barriers. It would seem self defeating to vote for someone whose policies might well jeopardize this economic prosperity, but politics is not currently following the usual script. At the present time, nationalism, economic or otherwise, rules! OK!

But if many of his views are so toxic, and his policies insular and economically damaging, then why is his party leading the opinion polls?

The fault lies squarely with established politicians. Contemptuously dismissing the concerns of some voters by either consistently telling them they were wrong, or worse, completely ignoring them, has left a large chunk of people felling completely unrepresented. 

The void has been gleefully filled by characters like Wilders. Through expert use of social media to spread his outrageous statements, his ‘alternative facts’ and simple but very effective slogans, he has exploited their fears. He has succeeded in uniting these voters behind him by creating common enemies for them to despise, people who they can blame for all their problems. And the more outrageous he becomes, the more his supporters see it as evidence of his authenticity.

Predictably, current politicians have decided to combat him by lurching to the right themselves, rather than by using force-of-argument to rightly address these voters’ concerns (and their own failings). Current Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, has talked of “hating” the idea of a multicultural society and, in an open letter to the Dutch media, said people should “act normal or leave”. None of them have realised that you won’t beat nationalism by pandering to nationalists. It only emboldens them. Overweening Tory supertit David Cameron pandered to UKIP, and the extremists in his own party, and that worked out well didn’t it?

All this has made for a very unpleasant atmosphere. Twitter used to be the forum where you could dump your racist, xenophobic, sexist turd, but the rise of populists like Wilders has emboldened his hardcore followers so much that these sentiments have spilled over into daily life. Many now think they can say what they like, to whom they like and whenever they like, all under the aegis of free speech. “I have the right to offend you” they say, but free speech also means you have the right not to offend me – an choice which is rarely exercised. Ignoring what is said is no longer an option, as these views are expressed with increasing frequency, with increasing volume and by increasing numbers of people. The PVV do believe in democracy, as long as democracy means getting your own way, and if you have the temerity to disagree with them they talk loud enough so that nobody else can be heard. 

Alternative facts now upstage any form of hard evidence and persuading people otherwise is, apparently, futile. In a Europe-wide survey, all European nations grossly overestimated the size of their Muslim population. Dutch people thought 18% of the population was Muslim, when the true figure is 6%. When presented with the disparity, people tend to question the facts rather than their own assumptions. Combatting this mentality is currently proving all but impossible. 

However, translating all those votes into power could be difficult. The Dutch coalition system requires cooperation, consensus and compromise to form a government – qualities that are an anathema to a party of bridge burners led by a man who is always right. Additionally, other parties have said they won’t work with the PVV. But we all know what a whiff of power can do to politicians’ principles. I’ve no doubt that if Wilders is shut out of the coalition, that hoary old cliché will be aired – namely that the will of the people has been denied.

The great irony in me writing about this election is that I have no vote, as I’m still a British national. But I’ve grown to love this country very much in the years I’ve lived here, so I think that gives me some stake in the outcome. This scapegoating of minorities, and the mix of bigotry, prejudice and intolerance being pushed by Wilders and his party is not reflective of the country I now call home.

But let’s finish on a positive note. Wilders and his party might be heading the polls, but 80% of Dutch voters are voting for candidates other than Wilders. Brexit, the election of Trump and the rise of Wilders, Le Pen and the Alternative für Deutschland have made it crystal clear what the current political direction of travel is. But it is up to all us, especially voters, to determine the distance to be covered. Starting here on 15th March.

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My favourite things of 2016

It’s extremely late but, here, finally, are my favourite things of an interesting – and not always for the right reasons – 2016. Contrary to convention there are no star ratings, no marks out 10 and things are not listed in any particular order. Feel free to agree or disagree, or even to comment about your own favourite things.


Honourable mentions for Angel Olson, Jamie T, Nick Cave and Iggy Pop amongst others.

Lambchop – FLOTUS

For a band steeped in alt-country the introduction of soft pulsing electronics, dance beats and lightly auto-tuned vocals on their new album FLOTUS suggests a radical new direction. But it manages to sound both startlingly new and yet unmistakably like the Lambchop. Most importantly it is as gorgeous as ever. Definitely my favourite band named after a foodstuff.

The Coral – Distance Inbetween

When one of your favourite bands announces a comeback album, it fills you with trepidation. Does it confirm the decline that led to their breakup or provide evidence of a band revitalised by a hiatus?

Thankfully, any fears I had have been assuaged with a release that is just as engaging as their first 2 albums. Darker and heavier, but not as genre bending as their earlier works, it contains chugging psychedelic guitar riffs and enough great hooks to satisfy even the most obsessive fisherman. It’s good to have you back boys.

Wilco- Schmilco 

They certainly won’t win any prizes for the originality of the album title, but the music’s great. It’s a one paced, mainly acoustic Americana record from one of my favourite bands. An album that bears repeated listening. Described by lead singer and songwriter Jeff Tweedy as “joyously negative… I just had a lot of fun being sour about the things that upset me.” That’s absolutely fine by me and long may it continue.

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

My love affair with Radiohead has taken as many left turns as the band’s own eclectic and constantly changing career. An album of new songs, old songs and reworked songs, it is as both customarily dark and breathtakingly beautiful as their finest work. It is electronic, rhythmic and orchestral and topped off by Thom Yorke’s haunting voice. All these years my favourite album of their’s has always been The Bends, but maybe this storming effort even out-bends The Bends.

Teenage Fanclub – Here


The formula may not have changed, but I still anticipate any new Fannies release as eagerly as I did when I started buying their CD’s 25 years ago. It contains 4 songs each from 3 of the band members and combines power pop, jangly guitars and beautiful close harmony singing. Everything is, as always, impeccably crafted. Hold On, The First Sight and I Have Nothing More to Say are 3 of the loveliest songs you’ll hear all year. In fact it’s 45 minutes of loveliness and probably the CD I’ve played more than any other this year. They remain a criminally under-appreciated band. One of Scotland’s finest exports. 

Steve Mason – Meet the Humans

Now that ex-Beta Band frontman Mason is finally believing in his talent, rather then let it be crushed by his long term depression and anxiety, he’s produced an album full of warmth, hope and personal stories. Encompassing pop, folk, dub and dance and overlaid by his sumptuous voice, it’s a winning combination that may finally get Mason the public recognition he so richly deserves.

Kevin Morby – Singing Saw

After 2 rather jumbled solo albums Morby’s 3rd is a serene folk-rock record. It’s an album from someone who sounds like he’s finally found his musical and lyrical voice, containing much mystical imagery and even the sound of the album titled ‘singing saw’. Having seen him perform a rip roaring live show in August, his future looks very bright indeed.


Adrian Tempany – And the Sun Shines Now

This is not your average football book, and sometimes not even a football book at all. Written by Hillsborough survivor Tempany and underpinned by that disaster, this book is part memoir, part social history and part survivor’s tale. After reaching its nadir at Hillsborough it looks at the changes in the game and in society at large driven by that disaster. It’s a real ‘state of the nation’ book that shows how football went from being described as a slum sport for slum people to being repackaged into the ultimate consumer product for the 21st century, one that both influences and reflects the society around it. Essential reading for football and non-football fans alike.

Stuart Maconie – The Pie at Night

Following up his excellent Northern Britain travelogue ‘Pies and Prejudice’, Maconie now looks at the after hours leisure pursuits of his fellow northerners. As Maconie tells us, this is a book about ‘love and work and the debatable land between… the place where the two come together and have a good time.’ The tapestry of our culture, he says, is woven from play. He looks at where the northern clichés end and truth begins, and finds answers in the most unusual of places – The Lawnmower Museum in Southport anyone? He best sums up his affection for the north whilst stood amongst the crowds on the platform at Warrington train station and realises ‘these are my people. I’m at home here in raw northern light with these hardy folk’. I’ve lived in The Netherlands for many years now and it’s definitely the place I call home, but whenever I return to northern Britain I have the same feeling – these are definitely my people. It’s a book to warm the cockles of my northern heart. Funny? Yes. Warm? Yes. Chippy? Absolutely. It wouldn’t be a proper book about the north, by a northerner, without those attributes. 

Graeme Macrae Burnett – His Bloody Project

Essentially the fictional memoir of 17 year old Roderick Macrae, written in prison after his arrest for a gory triple murder in his home village of Culduie in 1869. The story masquerades as the author’s research into his family history, thus blurring the lines between fact and fiction, but leads you to believe that this is a factual account of a real crime. Being a novel about crime rather than a crime novel, it was shortlisted for the 2016 Booker Prize, being easily the most readable novel to make it onto that list since 2008’s White Tiger.


I, Daniel Blake

This traces the story of the title character who, after a heart attack, is advised by his doctors he is unfit for work, but who according to government benefits advisors should be looking for work, thereby making him ineligible for the disabilty benefits that would aid his recovery. It’s traces his journey through the soul destroying, dehumanising modern UK welfare system. Like all Ken Loach’s best work it marries much warmth, compassion and humour in amongst the gritty drama, but overall the tone is heart breakingly sad. It should be beamed onto the side of the Department of Work and Pensions building 24 hours a day until somebody starts to take notice.


The Line of Duty

Series 3 of the police corruption drama was as tense and unrelenting as Series 1 and 2. Ostensibly about historic child sex abuse, it turned out to be part of a much deeper conspiracy, but ultimately it was about the chase to finally find corrupt copper ‘The Caddy’. Complex subplots, false leads and dead ends meant that each episode made your head spin. But it was so brilliantly executed that it all eventually made sense. The interrogation scenes were so claustrophobic that it felt like you were being personally grilled. It was buttock clenchingly exciting TV.


Having lived in Liverpool at the time of the Hillsborough disaster I’m only too aware of the pain, grief and anger that descended on the city in the aftermath of this tragedy. Indeed, one of our housemates attended the game, but in those pre-mobile phone days we endured an agonising wait till late in the evening before hearing our friend’s voice on the other end of the phone, reassuring us he was safe. This outstanding and indispensable one off documentary made for harrowing viewing as it reviewed not only how the day itself unfolded, but how in the immediate aftermath and over the following 27 years the friends, family and indeed the whole city of Liverpool was treated with complete contempt by the police, the government and the media as the entire establishment fought desperately and deviously to prevent the truth from emerging. It is a testament to the determination and dignity of those left behind that the truth has finally emerged. One can only hope that criminal prosecutions now follow.


John Grant

This year I’ve seen excellent performances from Father John Misty, Wilco, William Tyler, Kevin Morby, Nathaniel Rateliff, and Jonathan Wilson, but all of these were topped by John Grant. It’s so refreshing to see an artist touring for pleasure rather than just in support of a new album. He charmed the audience with his language skills as well as his beautiful music. The accompanying video was shot with my own fair hand – explaining the shonky camera work – but highlights perfectly the beauty of his voice and his performance.

So, overall, 2016 was another excellent year. Much peace and love to everybody for 2017.

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The Test

There is a quote, from a book I read several years ago, that piqued my interest as soon as I read it. The quote related to a particular group of people, but my immediate thought was that it was equally applicable to a completely different group. However, the thought was parked, as was the quote, until now . . . 

Whilst the idea behind my thoughts merited consideration, it is only in the last few months that the perfect subject has arisen to best illustrate it. 

The quote is as follows:

“These people are predators who use charm, manipulation, intimidation, sex and violence to control others and satisfy their own selfish needs. Lacking in conscience and empathy, they take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without guilt or remorse. What is missing, in other words, are the very qualities that allow a human being to live in social harmony.”

The quote is by renowned criminal psychologist Bob Hare and is culled from Jon Ronson’s superb book The Psychopath Test. Bob Hare developed the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, a standard psychological assessment tool that uses a 20-item inventory of perceived personality traits and recorded behaviours to determine the psychopathic tendencies of any individual under observation.  

But what piqued my interest about the original quote, is that if I hadn’t told you it related to psychopaths would you have guessed? Probably not. My original thought was that if I that told you it related to politicians and not psychopaths would you have been overly surprised? Again, probably not.

But once you see the 20-item checklist, the overlap between the two groups becomes glaringly obvious:

  • glib and superficial charm
  • grandiose sense of self
  • need for stimulation
  • pathological lying
  • cunning and manipulative
  • lack of remorse or guilt
  • shallow emotions
  • callousness and lack of empathy
  • parasitic lifestyle
  • poor behavioural controls
  • sexual promiscuity
  • early behavioural problems
  • lack of realistic long-term goals
  • impulsivity
  • irresponsibility
  • failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • many short-term marital relationships
  • juvenile delinquency
  • revocation of conditional release
  • criminal or entrepreneurial versatility

Basically, if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck then it probably is a politician. 

Whilst many of these traits can be recognised in much of the population, and certainly in many politicians, it doesn’t mean that all of us, or all politicians, are psychopaths. Each item on the checklist is assigned a score of 0, 1 or 2, with 0 denoting the trait doesn’t apply and 2 denoting there is a good match to the person being assessed; giving a final score of between 0 and 40.

While few politicians may have developed into full blown psychopaths, many could certainly be labelled as high-functioning sociopaths. The tipping point between ‘psycho’ and ‘socio’ is probably debatable. Perhaps the decider is that sociopaths retain enough conscience to be aware of their anti-social behaviour, although not enough to stop it. 

The persistent anti social behaviour, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, uninhibited and egotistical traits, that are clearly visible in many leading politicians, have finally led to huge levels of popular disillusionment with political classes the world over.

But our problems may only be just beginning, as another quote from Ronson’s book suggests:

“Psychopaths and sociopaths don’t change. They don’t learn from punishment. The best you can hope for is that they’ll eventually get too old and lazy to be bothered to offend. And they can seem impressive. Charismatic. People are dazzled. So, yeah, the real trouble starts when one makes it big in mainstream society.” 

So step forward, depending on your point of view, either Public Enemy Number One or national hero: Donald Trump. It is a quote that could’ve been written personally about him. You could easily imagine him writing it about himself, confused and overcome by words like ‘charismatic’ and ‘dazzled’. He might just be the most perfect embodiment of a high-functioning sociopathic politician the world has ever seen. 

He is very successful (It helps to inherit vast wealth). But much of his success is built on the efforts of others, often at great cost to them. He claims the successes are his and his alone and the failures are, of course, due to the faults of others. He is superficially gracious, but with a win-at-all-costs mentality. He humiliates others with abandon but is unable to cope with even the slightest hint of ridicule or criticism. And while initially popular with the media for his straight talking (controversy sells), he is now reviled by all except extreme right-wing publications. The tick boxes on Ronson’s checklist are filling up rapidly.

Among his catalogue of insults are “rapists and drug dealers” (Mexicans), “terrorists” (Muslims), “thugs” ( African Americans), “bad hombres” (Latinos) and boasts about how he “grabs women by the pussy”. There is hardly a sector of society he hasn’t insulted, taunted or abused. 

His campaign exists in a world where facts and truth are considered dull and worthless, but where lies, insults, conspiracy theories and hyperbole are the order of the day. He has filled his campaign with meaningless slogans such as “we’re going bring the jobs back”, “we’re going to release the water”, “we’re going to send the bad guys back” and, most famously, “we’re going make America great again”. It may be meaningless, but it is resonating with enormous numbers of voters.

While making life miserable for the minorities he chooses to scapegoat, he promises to make life better for those he is whipping up into a campaign-trail frenzy. It’s a toxic mix, full of threats and promises that he can’t or won’t fulfil, if elected. 

There is a tiny part of me that understands why people are tempted to vote for characters like Trump. These are people whose jobs have disappeared overseas, whose incomes have stagnated, and who despair of the future under a system they experience as corrupt and remote, a system that has failed them and does nothing for them.

But to remedy these frustrations by supporting a post-truth moron, who perfectly embodies the establishment and system you think has screwed you, is pure folly. It is exactly that establishment and crooked system that allowed him to build his fortune and power. 

The poison he has unleashed in this campaign may just be a taste of things – and prospective leaders – to come. So called ‘anti-establishment’ candidates are on the rise all over the developed world. Be it Trump in the USA, Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in Holland or the Alternative für Deutschland, they are just channelling the feelings, prejudices and conspiracies that already exist within many people; whipping them up into an extreme toxic tornado.

That Hillary Clinton isn’t leading by a huge margin speaks volumes about her perceived untrustworthiness (oh how I wish Bernie Sanders had beaten Clinton). The campaign of name calling and personal barbs has seemed more like a Twitter spat being played out in real life than an informed debate. It’s definitely the first presidential campaign where one candidate has felt the need to reassure voters about the size of his manhood – maybe a sign of overcompensating to avoid a painful truth. 

Win, lose or draw, Trump will continue to lash out at his opponents on Twitter in the early hours. But, as the Financial Times pointed out, “only drunks and sociopaths tweet at 3 am”. Donald Trump is teetotal. 

By rights, a candidate like Trump shouldn’t get anywhere near being president. And yet, and yet. 

It’s been a strange year, particularly how the Brexit vote surprised both sides. So don’t underestimate the nativist populism that is currently sweeping all before it. By next week, a racist, misogynist, homophobic, xenophobic and highly sociopathic man could be elected ‘leader of the free world’. 

It’s just a thought, and scary one at that. Buckle up people, we could be in a for a bumpy ride

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Pants on fire….

Normally in Britain we’re very good at not talking about the elephant in the room. We aren’t ‘world class’ at many things anymore, but avoiding confrontation, burying out heads in the sand and hoping problems will magically dissolve is one area where we still lead the world. It’s one of our specialities. 

However, the current elephant in the room is now so big and behaving so unspeakably that we can’t not look at it and can’t not talk about it. In fact it’s all anyone can talk about at the moment. 

Britain’s vote to leave the EU has shone a very harsh and unflattering spotlight on its politicians and people in the last 5 months. It’s revealed the blunt and binary nature of referendum politics, the untrustworthiness and staggering self interest of our politicians, and it’s revealed the worst prejudices of the public at large. If this was an example of ‘representative democracy’ then count me out.   

It’s made people angry, anxious and confused, setting families and friends against each other, north against south, countryside against city, rich against poor. It’s even set the constituent parts of the UK against each other. For a country called the United Kingdom we have never been so disunited. 

The people may have spoken but did they know exactly what they were saying, or indeed the full extent of what they were voting for. The winning side only convinced people to vote leave by selling them a series of big fat lies. Led by liar in chief Boris Johnson, but ably supported by Michael Gove and Nigel Farage, they lied, lied again, and just to be sure they lied some more. Over 5 months they lied often enough that the lies and banal slogans like ‘Take back control’ overpowered rational argument.

We’ve become accustomed to the fundamental and underlying principle of public life is that you will, if necessary, lie to get what you want. But to lie so brazenly and over something so important and then row back on all the promises you made within hours of winning is staggeringly corrupt. This kind of performance in any other place of work would have you ejected from the building.

They spent weeks making promises about what would happen when we broke free from the EU straightjacket. We’ll have £350m a week extra to spend on the NHS, they said. Immigration will be lower, they said. They would immediately trigger Article 50, respecting the democratic will of voters, to begin our escape from the EU, they said. Nothing would change for EU nationals in the UK, or for UK nationals throughout the EU, they said. 

The £350m sent to Brussels each week was finally acknowledged as a lie, and the proposed investment in the NHS was now just a ‘possibility’. Immigration wouldn’t be radically reduced, there would only be a ‘measure of control’. Article 50 may be invoked next year but also may never be invoked. And in my own situation rather than nothing changing, nothing would change ‘for now’. In the weeks that have followed it has now become crystal clear that my rights and the rights of millions of others will be used as a bargaining chip in the UK’s exit negotiations.

Even economically deprived regions in Britain that are heavily dependent on EU funding gleefully voted leave, and then once the result was known immediately demanded those subsidies be continued at the same level by the government in Westminster. Good luck with that! 

But if you thought the referendum campaign was bad enough, then what has happened since has plumbed new depths. Farcical would be too kind a word. The leaders on both sides of the campaign have all left the building. 

David Cameron rightly paid the price for losing. It was a referendum he chose to have, on terms he dictated, on a date he selected, and due to his dreadful overweening confidence he lost. He resorted to a device that reduced a complex and technical issue to a crude yes or no. And rather than settling something – the Europe problem – it has actually unsettled everything.

Boris Johnson was measuring the curtains in Number 10 until he was suicide bombed by Michael Gove, who as a result ruined his own chances – although his smarmy unpleasantness would’ve have done for him in the end. And Nigel Farage, having caused carnage, retired to spend more time with his ego and hobnobbing with the establishment he supposedly despises.  

The motley collection of candidates to succeed Cameron included a man forced to resign from cabinet 5 years ago for allowing a friend to tout for business during ministerial trips abroad, a man who based his campaign on family values but who was found to be sexting someone else, Michael Gove and his weapons grade treachery, and a woman with a hankering for the past, an embellished CV and who seemed to think beginning every sentence with ‘As a mother’ somehow qualified her to be PM. 

The winner, Theresa May, calmly waited for the others to destroy themselves, stepped over the bodies in the street and then presented herself as the solution to all of our problems. And in an irony that has been dismissed as irrelevant, after leavers spent 4 months arguing about the democratic deficit in the EU, they hailed the appointment of a PM none of us voted for and who was chosen by only 199 fellow Tory MP’s. 

She has talked of leading ‘one nation’ where she will heal the nations divisions, help the least privileged and govern for all and not just the elites. Fine words maybe, but sadly we’ve heard it all before. Every leader since I’ve become interested in politics has made the same promises, and yet each time it turns out to be nothing more than fancy, soothing rhetoric. And I don’t fancy her chances of unifying the country when she can’t even unify her own party. 

Any hope that people had of a new beginning were dashed within a matter of hours when Theresa May appointed that bell-end Boris Johnson as foreign secretary. A man who has called Erdogan a ‘goat lover’ , Hilary Clinton a ‘sadistic nurse in a mental hospital’, Obama ‘not all American, part Kenyan with an ancestral dislike of Britain’, and likened Africans to ‘piccaninnies with water melon smiles’ is now our chief diplomat in the world. Wisecracking your way around the world whilst handing out the trays of Ferrero Rocher is an insult to all of us and all of those he deals with. 

May also said that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, but that is meaningless if no 2 people can agree what Brexit actually means. Some people see Brexit as turning us into a European version of Singapore, others want us to become more protectionist. Some see Brexit as a chance to be more internationalist, others want to be more isolationist. Some want a ‘hard’ Brexit that sees us leave the single market completely and stop immigration, others want a ‘soft’ Brexit that leaves us like Norway whereby very little will change. Squaring some or all of those circles may take years or may even prove impossible. It will be a herculean task to amicably extract Britain from the EU without damaging our economy or pissing off our neighbours even more. And the appointment of Eurosceptic David Davis as Minister for Brexit – known in his previous time as Europe minister as “Monsieur Non” – hardly signals a “quickie divorce” but rather a lengthy, painful and costly battle. 

And when the millions that the Brexiteers seduced to vote ‘leave’ discover that our exit deal will be nothing like promised, and will not be the miracle solution to the problems they face, it will leave the entire population brimming with anger. Especially as the authors who led the campaign will be entirely unaffected.

But where have the Labour Party been in all of this? Self destructing that’s where. Jeremy Corbyn being lukewarm about ‘remain’ caused unwarranted criticism and a leadership challenge, whereas Theresa May being lukewarm about ‘remain’ made her PM. In politics people mostly vote for their party and rarely just for the person leading it. But Jeremy Corbyn has achieved a feat that seldom occurs and made, and continues to make, a personal connection with hundreds of thousands of people, including the young, a group hasn’t been engaged in politics for years. Enthusing them with a genuine socialist, anti-austerity agenda has been one my few highlights in what has been a dismal political decade. He still has my full support. 

But for others in the Labour Party this is not enough. They see their way to electoral success as being a ‘Tory light’ version of the Conservative Party. They claim to be ‘socialists’ but seem to physically recoil at any mention of the word. They have used Jeremy Corbyn’s somewhat lacklustre EU campaigning as an excuse to challenge his leadership, revealing themselves to be just as ruthless, opportunistic and unprincipled as the Tories. It seems the rule in politics should be to love your enemies just in case your friends turn out to be bastards. And who the hell is challenger Owen Smith anyway? I have a healthy interest in politics but would struggle to tell you much about him.

So where does this leave most of us as voters? Precisely nowhere. Neither party is currently serving the country in any way at all. The populist tide that has surged across the country seems to have created an atmosphere where as long as you preface everything you say with ‘I love my country’ or ‘I love this party’, it currently allows you to behave as unscrupulously as you like. It is often said that we end up with the politicians we deserve. Well I’m damn sure that apart from some honourable exceptions we all deserve better than the venal, amoral bunch of halfwits and non-entities that we currently have. If they’re the best we’ve got then we’re doomed.  

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Apocalypse Now

The time is fast approaching when politics shuts down for the summer. Combined with the close season in football it leaves journalists with little to write about. It’s known as the ‘silly season’, or ‘komkommer tijd’ here in Holland (cucumber time, and no, it’s not what you think) and this year it can’t arrive soon enough.

Mercifully, the EU referendum is only 2 weeks away. What should have been a chance for a grown up, informed debate has sadly and, perhaps inevitably, been turned into an old Etonian Tory beauty contest. Pitching a PM against the man who wants his job – opportunistic, egotistical mop-top Boris Johnson. Although thankfully there is no swimsuit section in this beauty contest.

Or it could be likened to one of those grim reality TV shows. The sort where you think all the contestants are fuckwits, but you have to vote for one of them. Only this time the winner doesn’t get 15 fleeting minutes of fame, but rather the chance to run the country. 

I know it’s a polarising, binary decision, but did any of us expect anything as unedifying and dispiriting as this?

If we leave the EU then World War 3 is imminent, ISIS will land in Cornwall and, horror of horrors for the UK publics national obsession, house prices will crash. If we remain then the entire population of Turkey will immediately move to Britain and we will become part of Hitler inspired united Europe. So apparently it’s a choice between economic catastrophe or the Third Reich.

Each side’s every claim is utterly refuted by the other side, and is countered by something even more ludicrous, meaning both sides are rooted in the mentality that their statistics are facts and the other side’s facts are statistics. It is a battle from which there is no escape.

Voters rightly want to know the economic consequences of leaving, and here it is less a case of hard facts and more a case of projections, estimates and opinion. Even when reputable figures and organisations have attempted to explain these consequences, their attempts have been met with a combination of outrage and scorn by Brexiteers, leaving the public somewhat discombobulated.

Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, when questioned by a select committee of MP’s, warned that Brexit was the biggest threat to the stability of the economy and could lead to recession. Right wing Tories immediately called for him to be sacked.

Or how about the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), a think tank that gained huge credibility analysing each party’s manifesto before last years general election. Their assessment of leaving warned of lower growth, a £40bn black hole in the public finances and 2 further years of austerity. Village idiot Nigel Farage immediately dismissed the IFS as a “paid-up propaganda arm of the EU”, due to the fact the IFS receives 10% of its funding from the EU. Ironic really, given that Farage, as an MEP, has been 100% lavishly funded by the EU for the last 17 years. 

Tellingly though, they didn’t dispute the correctness of what either of these institutions said, but rather attacked them as part of an establishment stitch up. Conspiracy theories and paranoia abounds in the leave campaign.

Brexiteers also promise a bonfire of EU regulations if we leave, but as with other promises have been very vague on detail, and despite international studies repeatedly showing that the UK has one the least regulated product and labour markets in the western world. They repeatedly criticise regulations, only to desperately back pedal when trade associations say they find them helpful, road haulage being a prime example. Most of the costliest burdens such as tight planning controls, or quarterly tax reporting are home grown. And if we want to continue trading with the single market we would still have to observe most EU rules without having a say in them.

They also promise more spending on the NHS, education, transport, housing, research etc. from stopping our EU budget contribitions. Net, it amounts to £7bn per year (1/3 of what leavers claim), just 0.5% of our economy. That’s a lot of promises and you don’t need to be a financial expert to realise that money can only be spent once. And it’s some damascene conversion from the men promising it, men who have spent their entire public lives advocating a smaller state and reducing public spending. Now they’re trying to befriend the working man with false promises. 

But as each argument is lost, or gains no traction with the public, the leave campaign changes the argument. After losing the economic argument they tried sovereignty, but this proved to arcane a subject for most people, and security ended as a score draw, leaving only one subject to fight on – immigration. It is their ‘comfort blanket’, something to retreat back to if all their other arguments have been defeated. But if undecided voters think this is all you have to offer, then in the end it may not be enough to convince you to vote out. But what exactly are the Brexiteers offering?

Their latest wheeze is a points based immigration system where age, education, language skills and previous employment would be assessed before granting a visa. But we already have such a system for non EU nationals and they currently make up 60% of migration to the UK, meaning, crucially, the government is choosing not to reduce the immigration it can already control. And as a majority of EU migrants are young, university educated and already speak English they would pass for a visa anyway. Additionally, most countries that have such a system already in place have used it to increase levels of immigration. Imagine that then. You vote to leave and the government then implements a system that may even increase immigration. 

But the greatest weakness in the leave campaign is their failure to detail the alternative trading arrangements to the UK’s membership of the EU, arrangements that wouldn’t cause economic damage. The main players in the leave campaign are deeply divided on this issue. Do we join the European Economic Area with Norway, have a free trade agreement with the EU or leave the single market entirely? Despite this lack of detail, the chief executive of the Vote Leave campaign claims “we will be able to trade with the single market on free-trade terms, tariff free, without paying into the system or accepting freedom of movement”. Fine words, but with no explanation (and saying our deal will be great because we are great is laughably pompous) as to why the UK could strike such a unique deal, on such generous terms, terms that haven’t been offered to anybody else. It is all being falsely presented as a cost free, risk free, pain free solution, rather than as the start of potentially years of tortuous negotiations.

Most of the above obvious and very important truths haven’t been clearly presented to voters. Even where they have, Brexiteers only hear what they want to hear, or believe what they want to believe. Everything is true as long as they believe it to be true. For them it’s not just a determination to leave the EU, they want to amputate Britain from the EU, regardless of the cost. They talk about wanting their country back, wanting to make Britain great again, exactly the sentiments we so readily mock supporters of Donald Trump for having. All the leavers can offer us is a vague collection of sentiments wrapped up in the Union Jack, and where asking for more detail about the post Brexit future is, apparently, unpatriotic.  

Watching all this unfold from here in The Netherlands has been deeply unappetising. The image of Nigel Farage on the news, stood on an open topped double decker bus, dressed like Rupert the Bear, and conducting a mock orchestra to the theme of The Great Escape left viewers, both in the UK and abroad, in no doubt as to what sort of post Brexit country him and his supporters want. Dutch people and politicians, whilst having many issues with the EU themselves, do not want Britain to leave. But they are becoming increasingly exasperated with Britain’s constant bellyaching and complaining. Attitudes that if, in the event of voting to leave, were carried forward, would make the Dutch and other nations rightly play hardball in any post Brexit negotiations.  

I’m not blind to problems in the EU. It is meddlesome and overly bureaucratic. And the proposed TTIP trade deal with America is dreadful. But I also know if America offered a post Brexit Britain the same deal, the government would accept in a heartbeat. So walking off in a childish huff wouldn’t solve anything. 

All of you who read this blog will know that I’m for remain. Living and working here in The Netherlands, personal circumstances dictate that I’m for remain, as I would be if I still lived in the UK. What would Brexit mean for me and others living throughout the EU? It would introduce a huge and unwelcome element of uncertainty into our lives, but amidst all the childish squabbling, the actual practical implications for all us expats haven’t been addressed at all. Being breezily told I ‘have nothing to fear’ or to ‘have faith’ not only belittles my life here but also makes me furious. Absolutely fucking furious. Even more furious than having to vote with a PM and a governing party that I can’t stand. 

Who wins? I’ve no idea. It’s that close. Many of those wanting to leave would crawl through broken glass to vote, so it could all depend on the desire and willingness of those wanting to remain to do the same. And maybe in the end that’s all I can say. Don’t wake up on 24th June and have inadvertently handed power to Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage and Iain Duncan-Smith because you didn’t vote. If you’re in, then say you’re in. I’m for in. I’ve already voted. All I can do is urge you to do the same on 23rd June.

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This Boy’s Life

In the last few years, which word/subject has garnered more media interest, more column inches, more news reports than any other? Yes, it’s the ‘I’ word, Immigration, the word that almost dare not speak its name. Pub bores Barry and Nigel bleating about immigrants has now joined death and taxes as one of the inevitable things in life.

It seems that a day doesn’t go by without some hysterical newspaper headline about immigrants. Each country has their own right wing politician who positively revels in immigration stories, and enjoys stirring the pot at every opportunity. From the UK’s own fruitcake Nigel Farage, to France’s dangerous Marine Le Pen, The Netherlands vile Geert Wilders (more on him at a later date), and ultimately even presidential supertit Donald Trump (whose views are as ludicrous and see through as that rug on top of his head), they are all at it. And sadly, every xenophobic utterance sees them increase their popularity.

And yet, how many of you actually know an immigrant? And by that I mean somebody born overseas and/or not living in their country of birth. I’m guessing not many of you, right? But for those of you who thankfully read my blog, you all actually know an immigrant, namely, me.

And maybe the reason you never hear positive, realistic or informative stories about immigrants is because nobody has actually asked what life living overseas is really like. I’ve been very reticent to write about this subject exactly because the atmosphere surrounding it has become so poisonous. But if I can’t write about it, then who can? So this my story. My attempt to explain some of the trials and tribulations, the highs and lows, the difficulties, delights and the reality of living overseas. If I were one of those wannabe contestants on ‘The X Factor’ then this would be my inspirational back story.

There are many reasons for leaving your country of birth. Currently, millions are fleeing war, torture and other terrible conditions. Some people do indeed emigrate for a better life. Some people are transferred overseas with their work. And some people, such as me, move for maybe the best reason of all, love. I moved here to be with my Dutch partner, Marianne, who I met in Australia in 2000. Any maybe your reason for moving determines whether you view yourself as an immigrant, an expat, a lovepat, or an international citizen. Me? I guess I’m a bit of all those terms. But maybe it’s like trying find the right word for someone you live with but aren’t married too. Partner? Girlfriend? Significant other? None of those words properly convey the status and strength of your relationship, in the same way that I can’t find exactly the right word to describe my own situation.

I’m also aware that, unlike the poor souls we see on the news every day, mine was not only a voluntary choice and something I actively chose to do, but also, thanks to being born in an EU country, something I could legally do. So, despite some of the challenges I’ve faced, I’m acutely aware of the privilege it is to be afforded that choice.

Initially, moving to Utrecht was an adventure. Getting to know my new country, my new hometown, discovering new customs was exciting, exotic even. Taking to cycling everywhere like a native, and with much free time on my hands, I spent many a happy hour trundling around the quiet medieval back lanes of my adopted city, getting to know it quite intimately, sampling dozens of fine Belgian beers in the cosy brown cafes along they way. It was a lovely introduction to my new surroundings, but all this free time soon began to drag and my only way forward was to try and learn the Dutch language.

Although English is widely spoken here, often to an excellent standard, I soon realised that if I didn’t learn the language it would leave me permanently isolated from daily life and, ultimately, would drive me into the warm embrace of the expat life I had consciously chosen to avoid. Without Dutch I was completely reliant on my partner to translate and everything came to me second hand. This is both time consuming and exhausting, something I only came to realise how much after I’d mastered Dutch and started translating for other people myself. I’ve invested a lot of time, money and effort to learn Dutch and, even though I now speak it to a reasonably fluent level, progress in such things is rarely linear. It is a learning process never stops and requires intense concentration.

It can still be incredibly frustrating not being able to fully express yourself in your new language, to be able to say exactly what you want in a concise and articulate manner. It may seem an obvious truth to say that our language is the way we communicate, but take that ability away and only then do you realise its fundamental importance to your daily existence and mental wellbeing. Yes, I could switch to English and be understood but, ultimately, this still ends up distancing you from the people you are trying to converse with and the conversation you are trying to participate in. This is both a limitation and a frustration that can still be isolating, but it’s also taught be to be more resourceful and independent, a strength nobody can take away from me.

Alongside learning the language, I also needed to integrate myself into Dutch society and you don’t just magically adopt Dutch culture at the expense of your own. It has, at times, been frustrating, but it has also been a great deal of fun. To learn, understand and accept new habits and values takes considerable time and effort and is something that can’t be forced. And there is no self-help guidebook or set of rules to follow. You learn as you go along. In my case, learning the right way of doing things usually involves me making a complete tit of myself – an experience I’m all too familiar with – by initially doing things in completely the wrong way.

Dutch birthday party’s are a prime example. Here, you don’t just congratulate the birthday boy/girl, but also congratulate all the other guests as well and they congratulate you in return. My partner hadn’t explained this ritual, leaving me feeling somewhat bemused by the stream of congratulations being given to me at somebody else’s party. But she quite rightly hadn’t explained this ritual too me, as we naturally assumed birthday party etiquette to be the same in both our countries. It’s a cultural gap that may always exist, although now to a much smaller degree, but unfortunately you never know exactly where and when this gap exists or when potential embarrassment may strike. Luckily, the Dutch are kind, generous and welcoming hosts, mostly delighting in the fact that you’ve learnt their language and being only too willing share their cultural habits with you. I see having 2 cultures to draw on as something beneficial, something to be enjoyed, something to give you new and additional perspectives on life.

As you adapt to your new culture, you also need to come to terms with what you left behind. You give up your home, your friends, your family, your culture, your entire way of life. It’s very difficult to convey how much of a wrench that is unless you have experienced it for yourself. All those daily rituals, those cosy way of doing things, ingrained habits that make life so comfortable are swept aside as you try to start afresh. And, in my case, all the while knowing that this was not just for a few years, but probably for the rest of my life.

But if daily life can, sometimes, be more trying than normal, then it helps that I have made of couple of English friends since moving here. It’s deeply satisfying, periodically, to be able to converse in your own language with another native speaker. To not have to think about what you’re saying, your syntax, or how to conjugate your verbs. Being able to express exactly what you want to say, in a relatively direct manner, and to be automatically and completely understood is a release that I need occasionally. As one of my friends, James, commented, it’s nice to enjoy the feel of your own language in your in mouth.

But after all these years living here, then have I ‘gone Dutch’ or do I still feel British? Frankly, I don’t fully feel either.

I’ve become quite Dutch, and have tried to do as much as I can to integrate. The workings of daily life are mostly no longer a mystery, but I’m still aware I was born elsewhere and maybe that will always colour my perspective. Will I ever feel truly Dutch? I suspect that only comes with being born and raised here. This is not the fault of the Dutch, as I’m certain my partner would’ve have similar feelings herself if we lived in the UK.

But also, I don’t feel fully British anymore. Whenever I return to Britain things feel both familiar but, as more time passes since I left the UK, increasingly unfamiliar. There’s still an underlying instinctiveness about how things work, but also slight confusion over things that have changed since your last visit. In Schiphol, on a recent trip to see family in Halifax, I bought a British newspaper to read about Liverpool’s magnificent victory over the arch enemy from the other end of the East Lancs Road the previous night. After reading about that, I then attempted to read the news section, but found it full of hysterical coverage about subjects and people that I’d never heard of. It made little sense to me anymore and highlighted how distant I’d become from my country of birth. Happily, I don’t suffer from homesickness, but do miss things about Britain, small things such fish and chips, a good curry, English beer and so on. When I return to the UK I enjoy these things. I partake of them indulgently. I find that I cherish things that I previously took for granted, but am aware of now enjoying them as tourist and not as a native. It’s a strange, sometimes unsettling feeling that occasionally surfaces.

But if any of this sounds like I regret moving here, then I don’t. I don’t regret it for a second, and would make the same choice again without hesitation. Nothing changes except what has too, and with us being different nationalities, it was inevitable that one of us would be changing country. Being somewhat introverted and distinctly lacking in small talk, I won’t deny that it has, at times, been quite daunting. Beyond doubt, it is one the biggest changes you can make in your entire life. But I’m very lucky that my transition to Dutch life has been helped enormously by having a very loving, very supportive partner. I couldn’t have done without her.

I’ve worked hard to build a new life here, harder than most people will ever know. But an element of uncertainty has been introduced into it due to what a good friend of mine, on his own blog, so splendidly described as the European Union referendum Hokey Cokey, the consequences of which are as yet unknown. I long ago tried to stop thinking of myself as an immigrant and find it vaguely depressing to be identified purely in terms of my nationality, but the current rapaciously xenophobic media and political narrative makes this increasingly difficult. But as a commentator on my last blog post about the EU so fatuously and dismissively stated, ‘I knew the risks’ when I moved here. It must be extremely gratifying to see things in such back and white terms.

I’m usually loath to blow my own trumpet, but I’m proud of myself for having the gumption to start over, proud of myself for learning a new language, proud of myself for embracing a new culture, but most of all proud of myself for making a new and happy life here. Living overseas is both challenging and rewarding. But you do the best you can. One day at a time.

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Lies, Damned Lies and Straight Bananas 

Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ is a justly famous film, and one of the most quoted in modern cinema.

Favourite lines include ‘Blessed are the Cheesemakers’, ‘The Greek shall inherit the earth’ and ‘You say Big Nose once more and I’ll take you to the fucking cleaners’ (that is an ‘in joke’ with Alan, an old friend of mine). But perhaps my favourite section is where the People’s Front of Judea (and not those slippery bastards in Judean People’s Front) are bemoaning their lot under the hated Roman occupation, only to end up listing all the benefits it has brought. It ends with immortal line ‘Alright, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, fresh water and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?’. 

With a June 23rd referendum of seismic proportions on Britain’s continued, but turbulent membership of the EU, and with both sides currently engaging only in childish squabbling, maybe now is the appropriate time for me, someone for whom the outcome could have far reaching consequences, to take a proper and truthful look at our relationship with the EU, and ask, ‘What has the EU ever done for us?’.

Undoubtedly, it’s greatest achievement is peace. The origins of the EU lay in the aftermath of the 2nd World War. In 1953 Germany, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg formed the European Coal and Steel Community, integrating their coal and steel industries – the 2 key industries necessary to make the weapons of war – in attempt at unity to ensure they never went to war with each other again. Barring the Balkan conflict in the 90’s, this idealistic principle has worked, meaning that the worlds most blood soaked continent has, in the last 70 years, become one the safest, most stable places in the world. And all done without force. That’s quite an impressive achievement don’t you think?

The 1957 Treaty of Rome established the modern EU and Britain encouraged its birth and expansion. Most countries joined for idealistic reasons. The original 6 to prevent another war; Greece, Spain and Portugal after escaping from dictatorship; and the Eastern Bloc countries after escaping from communism. Britain joined purely for pragmatic reasons, when we realised we were being left behind economically. Indeed, is it any coincidence that the 3 countries that opted out of joining the Euro on its formation – Britain, Denmark and Sweden – all joined the EU for pragmatic, and not idealistic reasons. Our ambivalence towards the EU, and the notion of Europe in general, can best be summed up by an old, apocryphal newspaper headline from the 1930’s, ‘Fog in Channel, continent cut off!’.

But beyond peace, then how about prosperity. The formation of the EU Single Market in 1992 created the largest free trade bloc in the world. It allows goods and services to move freely within and between member states by removing customs and tariff barriers, and by having common policies on manufacturing and product regulation. This has been a resounding and unarguable success, and has allowed productivity, jobs, exports and prosperity to grow hugely, and the net benefit is estimated to be worth 4-5% of the UK’s GDP.

Alongside prosperity are enhanced employee rights. EU directives enshrined in law rights such as equal pay, a minimum 4 weeks paid leave, equal rights for part-time and full-time employees, increased rights for agency workers, minimum standards for paid maternity/paternity leave, guaranteed rest periods and a maximum 48 hour working week. All these are hard won rights, but beyond these EU minimum standards British workers have some of the lowest social benefits and employment rights within the EU. Rights that the Tory right wouldn’t hesitate to dilute still further if freed from EU protection.

Consumer protection is also a key benefit of the EU single market, ensuring people receive equal rights when shopping anywhere in Europe. It also ensures full transparency from sellers, guarantees product quality and safety, and provides a 2 year guarantee on all products. All of this may seem quite remote, but a tangible example of the EU standing up for consumers is the imposition of a ceiling on mobile phone roaming charges across member states. And all of these rights were drawn up by unelected EU commissioners. Yes, those dastardly unelected bureaucrats that the media loath. Free from having to pander to the whims of voters, they can take on powerful vested interests on our behalf. It doesn’t mean that unelected bureaucrats are paragons of accountability, far from it, but nor are they the elitist and relentlessly bad influence that is often portrayed.

The EU is full of grand and noble ambitions, many of which have been successful, but with little public awareness or recognition. Structural funding may sound dull, but it has provided billions of £’s of regional development funding for impoverished areas hit by industrial decline. Attempting to equalise living standards throughout the EU, these funds have provided assistance to start businesses, modernise and diversify local economies, create sustainable jobs and improve infrastructure. I’ve seen the beneficial effects of this first hand in Scunthorpe, where I was born. As the UK contains 9 of the 10 poorest regions in Northern Europe, these funds have been vital in preventing them falling even further behind. Funding which the UK government has little or no interest in providing.

One of people’s biggest bugbears with the EU is the European Court and Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), despite not actually even being part of the EU. Among other things it guarantees the right to life, prohibits torture and slavery, the right to privacy and freedom of thought, religion and expression. Senior judges only have to take rulings into consideration, and the ECHR can’t overrule the UK Supreme Court. Those complaining about its unfairness to the UK should consider that the ECHR was mainly drawn up by Tory MP and judge David Maxwell Fife, assisted by British lawyers and is mainly based on British law. I’m not sure which of these rights people would like to overturn or what they’d like to replace it with.

Aside from the grand things I’ve described, then how about a couple of examples of the small achievements that help countless thousands of people. A standardised EU pet passport allows us to bring our dog quarantine and hassle free into Britain. Or the fact that my mother’s standardised blue disabled parking badge is recognised throughout the EU, making holidays abroad immeasurably easier. Both good things surely? And there are endless other examples of this immensely helpful harmonisation and standardisation of regulations, harmonisation that makes all of our everyday lives easier, without most of us even noticing.

Eurosceptics believe, and want all of us to believe, that the remaining 27 countries will give us exactly what we want, the utopian free trade deal of our dreams, if we leave. If you ask them what happens if we don’t get this deal, their only reply is: ‘But we will’. That’s it. That’s their entire argument. Such vagueness is laughable and we all deserve better, to be told what ‘out’ actually looks like. It seems naive in the extreme, fanciful even, that an organisation you’ve just voted to leave, and spent most your life opposing, would give you exactly what you want.

To use Lyndon Johnson’s maxim, it’s better for us to be inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in. If we vote to leave we wouldn’t even be able to piss into the tent anymore, as pretty soon the tent would be packed up and moved on to another campsite without us, leaving us pissing in the wind, with nothing to show for it except piss stains on our shoes. To paraphrase UK band The Specials ‘it’s better to wake up with lipstick on your collar, instead of piss stains on your shoes’.

However, I wouldn’t have a shred of sympathy for David Cameron if the UK foolishly chooses to leave. His attempts to appease the malcontent little Englanders in his own party, but now with the added bonus of blue on blue old Etonian in-fighting with Boris (muskets at the ready?), have put the UK in this entirely unnecessary and dangerous predicament.

I confess that I have vested interest in the UK remaining in the EU, as freedom of movement allows me to live and work in The Netherlands without restriction. How this would change if Britain left the EU is unknown, but it could mean a very uncertain future for me and millions of others currently living throughout the EU. It could affect my right, as an immigrant, to live here, my right to work, my access to healthcare, even my access to benefits and pensions in the future. A politician blithely assuring me that everything will be fine if Britain votes out doesn’t reassure me in the slightest. At some point, I hope voters realise that the implications of leaving the EU are greater than immigration alone. That is just one element and voters need to put that into perspective

Perhaps the EU’s biggest problem is that it started out, and has remained to a great extent, an idealist project. An idealism that usually always to end in disappointment. But this shouldn’t irrationally blind us to the many lasting and positive benefits it has brought to all of our lives. So apart from peace, prosperity, employment rights, consumer rights, regional development, freedom of movement and human rights amongst other things, what has the EU ever done for us? The bastards eh!

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