Dear <my MP>,

I’m afraid this is going to be a long one, so it might be best to grab a cup of tea first.

I am seriously concerned about what the Conservative government is doing to the economy, to British society, to human beings in need of compassion and to our reputation globally.

In your reply to me dated 23rd September, you reiterated Mrs May’s assertion that “Brexit means Brexit” and that 17 million people voted to leave the EU. The government keeps insisting that this is what the referendum suggested and they are damn well going to implement the result. I eagerly await the outcome of the ongoing legal challenge to Mrs May’s attempt to usurp parliamentary sovereignty by use of the royal prerogative. As you and I both know, leaving the EU is not simply a matter of making or leaving treaties. Leaving the EU will fundamentally change the way the UK does business, how British society functions and, indeed, looks perilously like it will actually destroy the UK itself. To do this on the back a wafer-thin majority on an non-binding referendum (a majority that Mr Farage himself said he would call “unfinished business”) beggars belief, particularly in light of surveys now coming in suggesting that there are enough people who regret voting “Leave” to swing the result in favour of “Remain”.

The referendum should never have happened in the first place. The only reason it did happen was the combination of the fact that Mr Cameron was too weak to stand up to UKIP before the 2015 election and the fact that the Conservative party scraped a piddling little majority in the Commons. Mr Cameron never expected to be able to keep that promise, as he fully expected to be in coalition again. To win a majority in 2015 was a disaster for him.

The referendum campaign was appalling to behold. Neither side covered themselves in glory, but the leave campaigns (for they were plural) were based on bare-faced lies and racial hatred. Johnson and Gove lied about the amount of money we send to the EU, and they lied about there being a chance that would be spent on the NHS. They also promised us that EU citizens currently resident and working in the UK would be allowed to stay, yet they both voted against that exact policy in the Commons last week.

The Parliamentary petition “Make it illegal for any UK political figure to knowingly lie or mislead” gathered 78,467 signatures, largely on the back of the despair felt by upstanding people for the contempt in which we had been held by our elected representatives in the referendum campaign. The government’s response quoted Lord Nolan: “The 7 principles of public life apply to those who hold public office. This includes people who are elected or appointed to public office, nationally and locally.” I assume that this response was supposed to placate us. Telling me that Boris Johnoson, for example, is bound by the 7 principles just insults me. Let’s look at Mr Johnson’s performance on a couple of them, shall we?

Selflessness: Mr Johnson, previously strongly Europhile, stood on the opposite side in the campaign from Mr Cameron purely so he could further his career within the party. It worked out quite well for him, personally, too.

Honesty: he lied about £350m, he lied about funding the NHS, he lied about Turkey joining the EU if we remain (If we are members of the EU, Turkey cannot join without our consent; if we leave the EU, they could join without our consent: if he really cared about keeping them out, he should advise us to remain); he lied about giving current EU citizens the right to stay on as they are in a post-Brexit Britain; he lied about the possibility of us maintaining access to the Single Market without allowing free movement.

The Cabinet Office dismissing the clearly expressed concern of 78000 people by saying that MPs are bound by these rules, yet failing to enforce those rules is unacceptable. Either Mr Johnson, Mr Gove and others are above the law and the Cabinet Office should have the honesty and integrity to tell us this explicitly, or they are not and the Cabinet Office should haul them over the coals for their clear, specific, obvious and flagrant breaches of the rules.

Mr Gove’s insistence that we are sick of experts is another example of utterly irresponsible behaviour from an elected minister. I daresay, should he require emergency surgery, he would prefer that an expert wield the knife, rather than Izzy the bin lady (who is, after all, an expert in her own field). The reason we listen to experts is because they are experts. They know stuff.

As for Mr Farage and his speeches and posters designed to incite racial hatred, that man should find himself in front of a judge. His “breaking point” advert was a carbon copy of a Nazi poster from the ’30’s, and should be treated that way. His use of refugees fleeing a warzone as a political tool was wrong on so many levels it’s hard to begin. Our obligations to accept refugees is independent of our membership of the EU; incitement of racial hatred is a crime; for a prominent politician to be spouting blatant racial slurs legitimises racism in wider society. We have already seen a sharp increase in racist incidents since the referendum, flames fanned recently by Amber Rudd and Theresa May at the Conservative conference.

The pound continues to slide, the banks are already planning to leave, Nissan have no reason to stay. The EU has no reason whatsoever to make life easy for us and every reason to make it difficult, yet Mrs May and the government keep insisting that we will have a successful deal and that Article 50 will be invoked early next year. It’s almost as if we’re holding a shotgun to our own faces: it’s a bit worrying at the moment, but it doesn’t hurt too much, it can’t be be any worse when we pull the trigger now, can it?

In her conference speech, Mrs May kept on talking about citizens. Citizens this, citizens that. The implication is that people who are not citizens are people we can ignore and quietly get rid of. We don’t much like them: they are not like us. Ms Rudd’s speech was, arguably, worse and, as demonstrated by LBC’s James O’Brien, largely indistinguishable from chapter 2 of Mein Kampf.

Immigrants bring skills and workers to the UK and have been proven, time and again, to be a net contributor to the exchequer. Blaming immigrants for strain on local schools and health services is beneath contempt. It is for the government to spend this increased income on the services required by the communities where the need has arisen. It is not my fault if I give you £20 for the food that I eat in your house and you spend it on a new jacket. If the government is hell-bent on running schools and GPs into the ground because they are allergic to spending money on people, they should admit this publically. To blame the brown faces in a community for the government’s unwillingness to supply the need that the brown-faced people are paying for is insulting, degrading, divisive and straight out of the UKIP playbook.

Blaming the EU for large immigration numbers is also disingenuous when immigration from outside the EU is very high. If the government is so keen to reduce immigration, it could do that easily by curbing the immigration that we can control rather than blaming the EU for it.

Complaining that foreign immigrants do not integrate well into British society is also disingenuous when you look at British ex-pat communities overseas. Spain is probably the most egregious example, where whole towns are, more-or-less reserved for Brits who spend their whole time speaking English, talking only to English people and being unpleasant to Spanish business owners for having the audacity to be Spanish in Spain.

Mrs May is quite vocal on the “first safe country” rule. Of course she would be. To get here from any of our current active warzones, you have to cross thousands of miles of EU territory, all of which will count as a safe first country. Hiding behind that rule is simply a way to side-step our obligations as a humanitarian nation. We pride ourselves on being nice, on being compassionate, on welcoming Jews fleeing before the Nazis. But we’re quite happy for all of that welcome to have been seventy years ago. These days, we’d rather you stayed in Greece, Italy, France or, frankly, you drowned in the sea. If we do, grudgingly, let in a few refugees, then they’d better damn well look like refugees. If we said “children”, then they’d better look like children. Preferably young, preferably crying and holding a cute, torn teddy or something. No. Yet another cabinet minister suggested unethical, inaccurate and demeaning dental checks for all the people we have deigned to rescue. They should be grateful, after all, and we don’t want to be taken advantage of.

We need a few tens of millions to pay for ammunition, personnel, equipment and so on to bomb Syria back to the stone age? Sure, we’ll find it. Can we take a few dozen children in so their families can look after them here? You must be joking. They’d be much better off being vanished away from the Jungle never to be heard of again until they show up in an unmarked grave in the woods, having outlived their usefulness as a child prostitute somewhere in a quiet corner of the black economy.

“Did the British Public, so concerned about immigration before the election, condemn us when we saw the photograph of that little Syrian boy [Aylan Kurdi]? No. They told us to open our arms.”

Heidi Allen MP

Andrew Lansley gutted the NHS and now Mr Hunt is intent on destroying it entirely. The service is chronically underfunded. It is already the most efficient health service in the Western world, and trying to squeeze more out of it for less money is, frankly, a joke. The “7-day NHS” rubbish is simply a bat to beat Junior Doctors with. Every time a person needs urgent care on the NHS, it is there. The ambulance service runs 7-days a week, emergency departments run 7-days a week. The labs, x-rays, porters, nurses, etc. etc. all run 7-days per week too. We already have a 7-day NHS where we need it. Asking the service to extend non-emergency cover by 40% at the same time as squeezing funding, cutting training of new nurses and refusing to guarantee that EU-citizens working in the NHS will be allowed to stay is, once again, utterly irresponsible.

We are reaching the point where people are going to start losing their lives because the government can’t be bothered to fund the NHS properly, and the Health Secretary is running around screaming and scapegoating the junior doctors. Mrs May suggests that there isn’t going to be any more money for the NHS any time soon.

It is the most efficient system in the world, and free at the point of delivery. We should be proud of that, not embarrassed that it is not in the private sector.

David Clapson is dead. He died in his flat, with 5p on his phone, £3.44 in his bank, with almost no food in the house and no electricity to power the fridge to keep his insulin cool. In short, he starved to death. Now, I’m not suggesting that there is a proven causal link between him having his benefits sanctioned and him being unable to buy enough food or electricity to keep himself alive, but I raise it as a possibility.

He’s not the only one, of course. This article makes me cry.

How has it come to pass that a nation who likes to tell the world that we’re warm, welcoming and compassionate and that we stand up for the little guy has become cold-hearted and angry to the point that we label our starving poor as “scroungers” who are probably either playing the system or outright cheating it. One wonders if we should be putting greater emphasis on benefit cheats or on tax avoiders.

“Sending a message to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society that we do not care [does not pass the Family Test].”

Heidi Allen MP

We have already had a conversation about the Investigatory Powers bill. Quite why the government is so keen to replicate the Internet policies of China, Iran and North Korea is beyond me.

Privacy is important.

Do you sing in the shower? Would you sing in the shower if you thought I was sitting in the next room and might hear you? Would you sing if you thought I might be sitting in the next room and might hear you? The fact that I might be listening is enough to change your behaviour, whether or not I actually am.

The government defines British values as “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.” In the absence of privacy, we do not have individual liberty.

I am, of course, well used to politicians’ lies and hypocrisy, but that has never made it easy to stomach.

In addition, the fact that it is trivial for a competent criminal to avoid the mass-surveillance described in this law makes it clear to me that this is yet another security law designed purely for show, not for effect. History suggests that the metadata databases will be used for petty law-breaking. History also suggests that the metadata databases will get cracked, stolen and/or leaked. Anyone who has their data stolen will have their lives laid bare for all to see. How would you feel if your (hypothetical) frantic Google searches for “I’m suicidal: please help” or “depression helpline” or “my husband is abusing me” ended up all over social media?

This bill is soon to become law, and it stinks.

I’m stopping there, you’ll be pleased to know.

In summary, your government is despicable. The compassionate Conservatives you mentioned in your maiden speech do not appear to exist. The cabinet is full of rich white people intent on cutting us off from Europe and turning us into an inward-looking, tribalist band of haters who long for a mythical good old days where being British was a guarantee of special treatment on the world stage, where we could do what we liked to everyone without consequence and where we didn’t have to put up with those nasty foreigners.

It has become normal for politicians to tell bare-faced lies to get what they want, and to walk away from promises as soon as the election is over.

I implore you to do what you can to keep us in the EU, to stand up for refugees, to get proper funding for the NHS, to stand against human rights abuses wrought by your Conservative government, to ensure our privacy as private citizens, to end the government-induced deaths of benefit claimants, and to be the compassionate Conservative you are proud to be. I believe you may be the last one.

Yours in some despair,

JOTA 2016 at Gilwell Park

When Scouting was young, back in 1919, the Gilwell Park estate was purchased for the Scout Association by William de Bois Maclaren. It has served as the headquarters for the Scout movement ever since and is frequently spotted with tents for as many as 3,000 people to attend large Scouting events.

It was to this venerable site that I made my way on a cold and rainy Sunday morning this week. The camp ground was populated by a small handful of damp-looking Scouts making the most of the morning brightness, no doubt, to contemplate packing up wet tents into soggy bags ready for the moist journey home. They did seem to be enjoying themselves, however, and I let them get about their business while I scoured the site for the hub of the Jamboree On The Air.

It was the 59th time that a stack of Radio Amateurs across the world have teamed up with the Scouts to host an international gathering of Scouts, where young people on every continent can meet up and chat with one another without even having to go outside. I was very keen to see how it was done, having been a Radio Amateur since I was 15 but only a member of the Scout Association since last year.

The station set up was impressive, with three large masts erected outside pointing huge antennas in all directions, connected to three main radio units in the nearby classroom. The classroom had a roof, which was a good thing, because the rain didn’t let up until lunch time, and there was another deluge mid-afternoon. Inside, however, was warm and dry and the people there made me feel very welcome indeed.

On 40m (7MHz), Sian was working up and down the UK, talking to dozens of Scout groups throughout the day, including one contact that lasted an hour and a half, during which, she received something like 50 messages from Scouts, Cubs and Beavers, many of whom were completing the last stage of their Communicator Badge. On 20m (14MHz), Oscar was working into Eastern Europe, taking calls from Sweden, Italy, Ukraine and Russia (and, towards the end of the afternoon, as far as Thailand). On 15m (21MHz), Dave was using his computer to talk across Eastern Europe as well, using very narrow-band data format PSK-31; as the afternoon wore on, he turned the antenna around and was chatting with the USA. Also in the room, Alan was using EchoLink software on his computer to chat to stations all across the world, including Brazil and Japan. EchoLink is a weird cross between amateur radio and the internet where some links are on the ‘net and others use radios.

After lunch, Sian had her back turned and I pounced on the 40m radio and made my first ever contact on that band with a Scout group in Great Yarmouth, followed immediately by one out to the West of London. It’s been a very long time since I picked up a radio, and this moment was one of great significance for me. Having returned the controls to Sian, I returned to chatting with the young people about what radio is, what it does and how you can talk to people so far away.

By half-three, I was exhausted, so I ran away, but the team still had another hour and a half to go. I salute them.

With luck and a following breeze, I’ll run a station myself for my own Scout group, and we can look forward to chatting with the Gilwell Park station and exchanging greeting messages with them.  Should be a giggle.

I’m a liberal and I’m OK: I sleep all night and I work all day

Our glorious prime minister, Theresa May, is sick of the liberal elites.

Well, that’s OK then. It’s good to know. Because we wouldn’t want her to be sick of the old-money ruling-class elites who are actually sitting in the Cabinet and running our newspapers. Because they are the good guys. Those elites tell the plebs how to vote; those elites tell bare-faced lies to people in order to swing a vote, then tell us that the people have spoken and we have to respect the will of the people.

It’s not just Donald Trump’s wife who has been accused of plagiarism in making political speeches. At the Tory conference, last week, Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s speech seems to have been lifted more-or-less directly from Mein Kampf. It seems that it is now Government policy to turn neighbour against neighbour, to force companies to declare foreigners in their midst, and for schools to list all those nasty immigrant children.

In the meantime, the Jungle (refugee camp at Calais) is still home to a large number of human beings who just want to be accepted somewhere, their homes and livelihoods having been destroyed by war. Hundreds of unaccompanied children with family connections to the UK are still stuck there, months after the Commons had a dithering match about whether or not we could be arsed, as a nation, about their welfare. As far as I can work out, the answer has been a resounding “no, we really don’t give a shit about brown people currently in another country.”

Theresa May told the UN that refugees should settle in the first safe country they encounter. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Well, translating that into English is “you stinky brown people need to stop heading our way as soon as you reach Italy or Germany. We don’t want you to be our problem, so stop where you are and you will be someone else’s problem.”

We are a nation of immigrants. Encoded in our overly-complicated language is the DNA of a dozen countries: travellers, immigrants, raiders, invaders, conquerors, traders and visitors. The last of the pure-bred English were driven West into Wales centuries ago. Those of us out in the East would do well to remember where we came from before we start telling others that they can’t join the party.

We are a Christian nation with an established church. This is constantly amusing to me (I am not a member of said established church, but never mind). Our country is vastly more secular than the USA and the USA has a constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state. But I digress. We are supposed to be a Christian nation. A truly Christ-like nation would care for the widow and the orphan, would welcome the stranger, would care for the sick and clothe the naked. So far, we score points on caring for the sick, but the last few Health Secretaries have been working hard to consign that to history. On every other count, we suck.

On the other side of the Atlantic, meanwhile, Donald Trump has been seen on the telly prowling around behind Hillary Clinton while she was trying to address the audience in the recent presidential debate. Classy move. Almost as classy as dismissing his past behaviour (bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy”, apparently) as mere “locker-room talk”. Which is exactly the kind of thing that rapists have been using to defend their actions for a hundred years. Sorry, Trumpy baby, it doesn’t hold water.

But then, I’m just a limp-wristed liberal. If I wanted to leave behind the liberal elite and join the proper elite (the good one, the one we all want ruling), I should take the advice of the late duke of Westminster. When asked what advice he had for young entrepreneurs who wanted to be as successful as him, he replied “Make sure they have an ancestor who was a very close friend of William the Conqueror“.

Stop the world, I want to get off.

Whither Canada?

I should have turned over and had just another six months in bed when David Bowie died back in January. It was not a good start and the year only went downhill from there. Since then, we’ve lost Alan Rickman, Victoria Wood, Terry Wogan, Frank Kelly, Paul Daniels, Ronnie Corbett, Prince (artist formerly known as), Carla Lane, Muhammad Ali, Anton Yelchin, Caroline Aherne and Gene Wilder. And there’s still three months to go.

Then our idiot Prime Minister delivered what will surely go down in history as the biggest political fuck-up since Bonnie Prince Charlie chose Cullodden as a great place for a party with the English. It will take me a very long time indeed to forgive that utter plonker.

The scales have come down from my eyes, I guess. I used to think the English were nice people. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York in 2001, I boggled at the coverage coming out of the US. They know how great they are, do they? Well, the rest of the world sees you quite differently. I confess I felt a peculiar superiority knowing that, as a British person, I could see the US from the outside and know that their superiority was visible only through American eyes. I was smug in the knowledge that I was not like that. Wrong wrong wrong. The English are just as bad. In fact, we’re probably worse, because the US, at the very least, can back its smugness up with enormous political and military power. All we have is the memory of the slave trade and of Empire.

Long ago, when Britain was “Great” and ruled the waves, we explored the world. Not in search of culture and knowledge. No. We went all around the planet, killing the people we found there and enslaving them. And taking over their countries. And stealing their mineral wealth. And imposing rule from London. And exporting toffs to live there and look down their noses at the local cultures. Anything not English was savage; the only way to move away from savagery and towards civilisation was to become like the English. It’s a legacy that remains across much of the world. In the Caribbean, to have lighter skin tones confers a social advantage; in India, there is a thriving market in “beauty” products that lighten the skin. Because being brown is to be savage, of course.

This is our legacy.

And, stupid me, I thought we’d grown up. No. It seems that we’d just stopped listening to people. And when the PM decided to ask them, they spoke up, loud and clear.

It could still get worse, of course. The US could follow the UK in voting for a pack of lies, for bigotry dressed as patriotism. HM the Q might pop her clogs and Charlie 3 could ascend the throne. And Boris Johnson could assume his native form as a twelve-tentacled brain-eating slime monster from Vega VI. And the British government could decide to spy on every single one of its citizens every hour of every day.

What could possibly go wrong?

Please, God, make it stop. I’ve had it with 2016, and I want a rest.


I am tired.

There is too much going on. Too many people want my attention. Too many affairs demand my time. Too many idiots on my radar. I’m not going to be able to push out a thousand words today.

It turns out that parenting is hard. Who’d have thought. And you don’t get a holiday. Sure, you can take the kids somewhere different, but they still fight each other 12 hours a day and remind you with every passing moment that they are more important than you are.

It also turns out that schools are run by people who want to run the school their way and if that means that they are entirely happy with the service they are providing to you, there’s nothing you can do to request an improvement. Nothing short of an outright confrontation, that is. And I no longer have the energy for that.

Here’s a video about parenting.

Here’s a cartoon about consent.

And here’s one of my all-time favourite web comics.

Have a great day.


Fifteen years and two days ago, a bunch of nutters pointed out that the IRA were small-time amateurs and that, if you wanted to do terrorism properly, you do it with style and go for impact.

I’d argue that the attacks on the USA that took place on 11th September 2001 were the most successful terrorist attacks in our history. Not because 3000 people were killed that day (four times that number were killed, in the US alone, with guns in 2015; ten times that number died on the roads), but that it plunged the world into paranoia. George Dubya Bush launched the War on Terrrr, which hasn’t formally ended. The Patriot Act led to mass spying on US citizens by the US security forces (and similar laws on this side of the Atlantic too). The Department of Homeland Security was created, along with its agency the TSA, in charge of intimidating Muslim women, breastfeeding mothers, transgender people and pretty much anyone already pushed to the edges of society.

Over here, Home Secretary Theresa May (who is now the Prime Minister) has been desperate to get ISPs to retain internet metadata for ages. Even if you are “doing nothing wrong,” if you think that you are being watched, your behaviour will be radically different. Glenn Greenwald specifically says that your behaviour will be “more conformant, more compliant” with what is expected of you by society. Maybe this is why top politicians want these laws, actually.

War after war has been fought since then, mostly using Western armed forces and mostly in far-away lands with Muslim majorities. This, naturally, stirs up resentment amongst the populations of these nations, which forms rich ground for organisations like Daesh to sow its seeds and reap the reward in power, land and threat-level. Tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions have been forced out of their homes which has, in turn, moved us rich Western people from compassion-as-a-lovely-Christian-ideal to compassion-is-best-left-for-someone-else-we-don’t-want-those-filthy-brown-people-in-our-country.

The world, currently, stinks I can see no end to the stench. Nobody seems remotely interested in human compassion and nobody seems remotely interested in peace. And that is the lasting legacy of 2001-09-11. The world is feels more terror now than it has since the end of World War II, and that is what makes those attacks the most successful in history.

Open letter to Heidi Allen MP

We interrupt this blog to bring you a letter to my MP

Dear Heidi,

I was rather alarmed to read, in the Independent, that Mrs May intends to invoke Article 50 without the consent of Parliament.

In the run up to the referendum, the Leave campaign laboured long and hard about sovereignty and how we’ve given too much of it away. I wonder, then, why the British people should be asked to sit back in silence whilst the sovereignty of Parliament is swept under a rug for the Prime Minister to walk rough-shod right over.

In House of Commons Briefing Paper 07212, Elise Uberoi observes that the European Union Referendum Bill 2015-16 is a “type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions” and that it “does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum.”

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is not sovereign. Parliament is sovereign. The PM cannot simply say, one day, that it would be lovely for same-sex couples to get married and lo, they can. No. The PM must go to Parliament and make her case and the members of Parliament debate the idea and make an Act of Parliament (or not). It is a crucial check on the power of the executive which means that it cannot just change the law or the constitution because it wants to. It is what Parliament is for.

If the PM cannot just introduce a law that affects the lives of about 10% of the population without an Act of Parliament, I am utterly dumbfounded at the notion that she thinks she can take a steaming dump on Parliamentary Sovereignty and on the Constitution and, for that matter, on the “United” part of the United Kingdom without the explicit consent of Parliament.

We are told, over and over again, that we live in a representative democracy; John Bright described England as The Mother of all Parliaments (a phrase that has been repeated often in the 150 years since he did); the Leave campaign emphasised sovereignty. In light of all of these things, I find the arrogance of the PM to be breathtaking. Do we live in a parliamentary democracy or do we live in a dictatorship where the Prime Minister normally makes a show of consulting Parliament for little laws but decides to run rough-shod over our sovereign law-making body when she wants to.

I will summarise with one simple question for the Prime Minister, which I urge you to ask her with great urgency: Which Act of Parliament gives the Prime Minister authority to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty? And I ask you to keep asking the question until she gives a straightforward answer. I cannot invoke Article 50; you cannot invoke Article 50. I would submit that the PM cannot invoke it either without authority from the sovereign law making body of this country, and I implore you to prevent our PM from acting outside the law and from treating Parliament with contempt.

Yours sincerely,

I Am A Person



A question of identity

To quote the Vorlonwho are you?

It turns out that this is a difficult question to answer, with all attempts feeling unsatisfactory. God side-steps this question with a rather cryptic (on might say Vorlon-like) I am who I am, and nobody since then has made much of a better job of it. When faced with this question over and over again, Delenn finds herself falling back on her relationship with others: “I am the daughter of…”.

Yes, one of my identities is that of a fan of Babylon 5.

I say “one of” because each of us exists at the intersection of many distinct tribal memberships and identities, the combination of which is unique to ourselves and contributes to our individual identity yet, somehow, still fails to completely define it.

I am a Christian. In fact, I am a Roman Catholic Christian. There are some Christians who would take issue with my second statement there, and say that Catholics are not Christians, they will go on to give many reasons why Catholics are different to real Christians and do not deserve to stand under the same umbrella. Conversely, there are Catholics who think that the Reformation was a waste of time and merely served to distract millions of people from the revealed truth that came through Jesus Christ and to reject certain fundamental truths left to us by the man who was also the son of God. That debate will not be resolved in a single thousand-word blog post, and I will leave it to those more qualified than I to do the arguing.

I am a member of the Scout Association. This is the newest of my identities, and I find myself fiercely proud of this membership. For reasons best known to themselves, a group of children and their parents trust me (and the other leaders) to provide a stimulating environment where they can learn new things, do new things and experience a slew of activities that are hard to come by in any other environment. I’d be happier if they paid more attention when I’m trying to teach them how to tie a knot, but that’s kids for you. The Scout Association has been working for over a century to provide youngsters with friendship and adventure in the (well-founded) belief that being a part of a wider movement with a focus on helping others and having as broad an experience of life as possible will produce well-rounded and mature adults and be a force for good in the world. We try to show the Scouts the world from as many perspectives as possible, and to instil respect for all people and for the planet. It’s not perfect, of course, LGBT Scouts can have a wide range of experiences, not all of them good.

I am a member of the World Tang Soo Do Association. They have been teaching me Tang Soo Do for a good number of years, and I am moderately not-bad at it. Their belief is in self-improvement through martial arts training. You don’t have to go out and fight everybody to get better at martial arts: the main focus is on doing better each week. That thing you couldn’t do last week is the thing you look at this week and, through practise over years, you get to the point where you can not only do the thing, but do it well. This approach works for things outside of beating seven shades of shit out of a plastic breaking-board, and the discipline of martial arts training serves well in wider life.

I am an engineer. This is one of my core identities. Since I was seven years old, I have wanted to become an electronic engineer and it was with some trepidation that I started my first job fourteen years later. You see, I had pinned all of my hopes for life on this single career path and my focus throughout my time in full-time education was on obtaining a suitable qualification and entering the electronics profession. Having completed that education, I found myself staring at that first job with considerable trepidation: what if, after fourteen years of slog, it turned out that I didn’t much like electronics after all. I am fortunate indeed that, upon starting work, I discovered that I do enjoy electronics and I am actually quite good at it.

I am an engineer. I know I just said that, but engineer is a personality type as well as being a job title. I think in certain ways, I enjoy certain activities, I value intellectual rigour and clearness of thought. I can be quite arrogant and can be unpleasant to argue with. The sum of these traits means that I am an engineer even when I’m not at work. At church, I am an engineer; at home, I am an engineer; at Scouts and at TSD, I am an engineer. Other words for this identity are geek and nerd. It is an identity I embrace freely, because it provides a shorthand to describe the way I think and the way I relate to the world around me: it also provides access to a community of like-minded individuals with whom I can have stimulating discussions that would leave non-geeks bewildered.

I am a fan of Science Fiction. Most hard-core fans would dismiss me as an amateur. This part of my identity has never been huge or all-consuming. I do not think that Star Trek is all that wonderful and I can take or leave Star Wars. I also do not spend every waking moment devouring the work of Peter F Hamilton or Frank Herbert. I find Philip K Dick to be completely impenetrable. I do, however, appreciate the thinking-outside-the-box approach that makes good SF a great read. A decent SF story is not all about talking computers or epic space battles, it is about people and what happens when you put a bunch of people (people, in this case, doesn’t exclusively mean human beings) in a certain situation, throw in a bit of narrative tension and see what happens. Put a hundred people together in a closed environment on an island and it’s mainstream; do it on a space ship and it’s SF, but the tensions are the same.

I am a man who wears skirts. I see no reason why these hugely comfortable garments should be limited to people who look a particular way, and I have no truck with those who conflate sex with clothing.  Take a peek at the Oscars (or any other glitzy event) and you will note that all of the men look exactly the same, and all of the women are wearing dazzling clothes. (The fact that the men are judged by their abilities and the women are judged by their wardrobes is a discussion for another day). I think that the notion that exciting fabrics and beautiful garments are reserved for women and that a man wearing such an item is compromising his masculinity is completely ridiculous. My favourite skirt is box-pleated blue taffeta and resembles the bottom half of a ballgown. Can’t wear it because I’m a man? Balls to that notion.

I am bisexual. Yes. It exists. It doesn’t mean I can’t make up my mind between Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley: I simply think that you shouldn’t have to. They are both aesthetically appealing and I would not feel my identity had been compromised were I to wake up in bed with either of them. It doesn’t mean that I would particularly want to wake up in bed with both of them, either. In fact, the person I most like waking up next to is my wife and I’m not going to dump her for the next good-looking guy either (even Johnny Depp).

I carry other identities as well. I’m a man, I’m tall, I’m white, I’m British (I’d prefer to be Scottish, but I was born and raised in the Midlands), I’m a father, I’m a husband.

All of these identities put me in relationship with other people yet, alone, I still carry them with me and none of them defines who I am. Some identities must be validated externally by membership of organisations, others can be claimed simply by stating “I am this”. There are people who will take issue with my claim to certain identities and others who seek to impose identities on me from outside. In order to be fully and freely human, however, my identity must be my own, and I must be allowed that identity.

I am a person.

Pope fucks up

It’s a strong headline, but it works on two levels.

During his trip to Poland for World Youth Day 2016, Pope Francis had a meeting with Polish bishops. The transcript of this meeting was released last week. The bishops spoke of various things, but one thing the pontiff highlighted was gender theory. This has been reported in various places, but here are the articles from the Washington Times and the Catholic Herald. He spoke of this last year, too.

I really don’t know what is causing the pope to get quite so exercised about this. The only conclusion I can draw is that he has never spent very much time around transgender people. In my limited experience, most people who oppose the rights of others have many theories about those others, but no experience of actually knowing them.

Let’s hypothesise. Sofia is a transgender woman living in Buenos Aires, attending Mass regularly at the cathedral. She attends social gatherings and speaks to bishop Bergolio on a regular basis. In turn, he learns much about her life, how she knows that she has always been a woman, regardless of what her parents, her brothers, her priests, the media and the whole church have told her her entire life. This is a fundamental truth about her existence. There is nothing in who she is that challenges the notion that men and women are different from each other: she acknowledges that they are different: she simply demands that the world sees her as the woman she knows herself to be. Over the course of several years, Bishop B learns more about her life, and about the huge obstacles that the world has placed in her path, that she has had to fight to overcome. Sometimes, she has the strength to climb over or tunnel through them, sometimes not. Every day is a struggle just to be alive. Sofia’s family threw her out when she was young; she has found it very hard to find and hold down a job. Everywhere she turns, people reject her because her face doesn’t look right, because her voice is too deep, because she is too tall, because she doesn’t fit the mould. Many of her transgender friends have taken their own lives, either because they have been forced to live lives in the wrong gender, or because constant rejection by everyone you love takes its toll over years: they simply could not face another day and took the only road left open to them.

Bishop Bergolio’s heart breaks every day when he thinks of Sofia, of the hardship she faces simply by being who she is. He has known her several years and has really listened to her. He knows how she ticks, and can see the full journey she has travelled: she and her transgender sisters and brothers. He can see how their society, their laws and the church all conspire to rob her of the very essence of her humanity, of her dignity as a child of God. He can see all the forces of the world ranged against her, simply because she chose to stand up and be the person God created her to be. She decided that to live as a man was to die a little more every day. Sure, it made the people around her comfortable, but Jesus never, ever, changed who he was simply to make those around him more comfortable. He delivered his message in clear, often shocking, sometimes scandalous ways wherever he went. She is fully aware of what they did to Jesus because of this: she has weighed everything in the balance and has decided that, if she is to die, it will be at another’s hand, and not her own. She will no longer pretend just to pander to those around her. He sees this in her and he understands her.

When Bishop Bergolio becomes Pope Francis, he brings this friendship with him to Rome. He sees how his church systematically snuffs out the God-given light in so many people’s hearts. He stands before the bishops of Poland and gives the example of his predecessor, Pope St John Paul II, who as a priest in Poland would go on trips with the university students in his care, taking them to the mountains and playing sport. He would listen to them, he was with the young people [from the Catholic Herald article]. He tells the bishops to listen to people, to understand their lives, and to stop forcing identities onto people from the outside and to fight injustice against LGBT* people the world over, because that injustice, so long perpetuated by the church, is driving these little ones to stumble [Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2].

So, my headline for the week? I believe in my heart that the pope has fucked up with his comments about gender theory. I believe that he simply has not taken the time to understand what gender theory actually is before rejecting it as a symptom that we are living in an age of sin against the Creator [Benedict XVI].

I also believe that the pope is fucking up the lives of every transgender person whose lives are affected by Catholic teaching. He should look at the statistics for suicides of transgender people, the number people murdered each year simply for being who God made them to be, the number of teenagers thrown out of their homes by their families for the same reason.

The church doesn’t have to hold onto ancient laws in the face of new evidence. The church has accepted (after a century or two) that the earth is not at the centre of the universe. It does not have to cling to the theory that all humans are born with unambiguous genitalia and that those genitalia clearly and unambiguously reveal fundamental truths about who that person is as a person. The only way to determine someone’s gender is to ask them. People are usually pretty sure of their own gender, at least from the age of 2. Sometimes the answer you get is not what you expect. It may even be “some days I’m a girl, but today, I’m a boy”.

If we are to hold, as Christ taught us, that God loves each person wholly, fully and passionately, we must give each person the right to be a person. And in this, I believe, the pope has fucked up.

Human rights are for far away places

After the second world war, the United Kingdom put together a team of legal experts to draft a document that would, they hoped, put an end to the senseless suffering and slaughter of millions and would prevent a recurrence in the future. The result was the European Convention of Human Rights, the ECHR. It lays out basic human rights granted to everyone living in territories controlled by the signatures of the Convention, and establishes the European Court of Human Rights to oversee the application of the Convention.

It’s pretty good stuff (see here for a summary).

The problem, really, is that the UK wants to withdraw from it.

Yes, you read that right. The country that wrote the rules now want to withdraw from being bound by them.

The motivation for this is different depending on which politician you ask, but it boils down to a combination of the following:

  • Article 5 links security and liberty as a single concept. This is inconvenient for politicians, particularly current Prime Minister, Theresa May, because she wants to delete large quantities of liberty in the name of “security”.
  • Article 8 gives us the right to a private life. Again, inconvenient to Mrs May, because she wants to spy on all of our internet traffic, both Web and E-Mail. Article 8 will stick right in her throat.
  • Article 2 gives us the right to life. This includes the state taking steps to avoid unnecessary deaths.

The first two of these relate to the Investigatory Powers bill currently limping through Parliament, which I have covered elsewhere.

The third is more relevant, and links to the UK’s obligations both under the ECHR but also under the UN rules because it relates to the Conservative government’s drive for austerity.

The theory given is that the UK economy is heading towards bankruptcy: we have been borrowing money year-on-year for a long time, and our national debt is growing. At some point, we’ll be borrowing money to pay interest on borrowed money and the whole thing is going to vanish down the plughole. In order to fix this, the government, under the sensitive direction of former chancellor George Osborne, has been slashing public spending on unnecessary things like public health, education, legal aid, libraries, housing and welfare. But we’re all in it together, he said. That must be why he cut corporation tax and inheritance tax, because those taxes tend only to affect those with large amounts of wealth.

The UN disagrees that the UK has done its best to keep things equitable, however. In a damning report published on 14th July, it repeatedly urges the government to amend laws and policies that are actively causing hardship to those least able to look after themselves.

This has, of course, not been widely reported across the kingdom. We’ve had our head buried in the shitstorm surrounding the vote to leave the EU, but this report does exist, and it does highlight the fact that our government doesn’t give flying coitus about its poorer citizens and wants, in fact, to further erode their footing. I suppose if poor people all starve to death, they cease to be a problem for government, but that model has, historically, proven to be unreliable. Poor people have a nasty habit of clinging on. And, truly, if all the poor people went away, who would do the washing, cooking and moat-cleaning for the rich?

Ooh, it makes me mad.