Monday, 13 June 2016

Pluses and minuses both sides of the Atlantic

What a strange weekend! I suppose my highlight was Valteri Bottas coming third for Williams in the Canadian Grand Prix - the first podium position for our local Formula One team this season. I know the circuit particularly suits Williams' cars, but he was beaten only by a Mercedes (Hamilton) and a Ferrari (Vettel), and at least one of those uses the flexible wing of dubious legality.

And then on the plus side also, my mother-in-law who's staying with us enjoyed watching her near contemporary's birthday celebrations on television. That was a jolly occasion, I must say, especially when the sun came out for the party in the Mall. The extravagant trappings of our monarchy excite me towards republicanism, as does the structure of establishment that adheres itself to it. However I have great admiration for the lady herself; and I wonder whether her successors can measure up to her. And I do see the potential snags of an elected presidency - not least in the light of the two apparent contenders in the US. Personally I reckon that we could settle up our national debt by selling off much of the monarchical surplus stuff (houses, jewellery etc) and happily have something more like a Low Countries or Scandinavian monarchy. That might limit the propensity of politicians to exploit royalty and the British sentimental love of pomp, pageantry and pretty things... Just saying!

But seriously,...

Outweighing all that, on the dark side, were the events at Orlando and Marseille.

I first discovered the events at the Pulse nightclub in Florida on Facebook. Omar Mateen, American-born 29-year old, shot 49 people dead and wounded 53 in the deadliest mass shooting in the US in the gay club, where people were enjoying a Latin music evening in what they imagined to a "safe" place. President Obama "said on Sunday the Orlando gunman's motivation was still unclear. 'We know enough to say this was an act of terror, an act of hate,' he told reporters." It sounds to me that it was first a plain act of homophobia, then dressed up or "justified" in the name of radical Islam - not that there can ever be a justification for such barbaric butchery. 

Meanwhile we were hearing commentary about the violence between English and Russian fans at the end of the draw in England's first match in EUFA 2016 in Marseille. Strangely in my view blame on the BBC seems to have been pinned on the EUFA authorities (scheduling the match late in the day), on the availability of drink near the ground, on the French (heavy-handed policing) and on the Russians (specially trained thugs) - but not on English football "fans" lacking in self-control. I do notice a tendency, which I suspect stems from the government, to paint Russia as the villain in every possible scenario: the villains in Ukraine (Who provoked the resistance to the elected government?), in Syria (Who encouraged the uprising against President Assad despite warnings?), in sport (Were they alone in hiding drug-taking in their sportsmen?). It is of course convenient to create a bogey-man of another state. It allows politicians to damn any project they dislike as being favoured by President Putin. Maybe it's not surprising then that English football supporters consider it open season to beat up the pesky Russians.
Vladimir Putin Photo BBC

The latest example of this has been the oft-repeated assertion of the Remain campaign (Philip Hammond, Michael Fallon, Jack Straw and even the hand-shaking David Cameron) that Russia and particularly President Putin himself are in favour of Brexit. The odd thing is that the Kremlin has been assiduously (and infuriatingly) silent on our EU referendum. This morning I heard a Russian spokeswoman quoted in exasperation saying "the West tries to blame us for everything".

Mary Dejevsky Photo Newsweek
To find out the truth I sought out an article by the most reliable commentator on Russia I know, Mary Dejevsky, and found a careful short article in the Financial Times of 2nd June headed, "Vladimir Putin is not ready to toast Brexit". Interesting, I thought. She argues that Russia is in fact most concerned to have stability on its borders, and anything that might contribute to the EU's break-up would be anathema to Mr Putin, whose priority is the nation's security. This is its last paragraph, "The Kremlin has given no hint of any preference. If you chance upon a Russian diplomat in a quiet corner you might find, if not outright hostility to Brexit, then profound misgivings. Which is why, although the western consensus is that Mr Putin is preparing to toast an Out win, do not be so sure. The champagne may indeed be on ice. Whether it is in anticipation of a UK vote to leave the EU is another matter."

I on the other hand am now prepared to declare my voting intentions for 23rd June! I have moved, reluctantly, like Dr Sarah Wollaston, a Tory MP I greatly admire, from Brexit to Remain. I admit to being surprised to find myself on the same side as David Cameron and George Osborne, a power nexus I fundamentally dislike, and very sad not to be on the same side as the straight-talking Michael Gove, Dennis (the Beast of Bolsover) Skinner and Jacob (the Pinstriped Policeman) Rees-Mogg. It came to pass last week. 

I decided to consult my family. It struck me that the decision we're about to make will affect them and their generation much more profoundly and for longer than me and mine. So I contacted them all - seven of them - and asked them if they would mind telling me what they thought about it. Unanimously and without collusion they came back with the same answer in different forms and for different reasons. The reasons were good ones, a mixture of head and heart. To mention but four: collaboration is preferable to competition; the EU institutions mitigate the worst excesses of concentrated power, like that UK and other governments can wield; major problems, such as climate change and economic inequality, can best/only be solved by cooperation; the leave campaign is fuelled by an ugly "anti-immigration, scary foreigners" brand of thinking. Well, it's their future, and I'm not inclined to stand in their way. As I've said before, I don't give much weight to the silly sloganising and soothsaying ping-pong of the politicians and the experts they drag in to support their sides. But I do respect my children's and their partners' views, which are far from silly. So unexpectedly I shall vote to remain in the EU, with the expectation and devout hope that the United Kingdom will at last again actively engage in reforming and reshaping it for the better - which I believe it desperately needs.
Not, of course, that I expect this to make an ounce of difference to my readers! 

PS And now that The Sun, that paragon of moderation and reason, has muscled in on the side of Brexit, I feel confirmed in my decision.

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